Florida man brought 8-year-old boy along on multi-day crime spree

LAKE WALES, Fla. (WFLA) — A Lake Wales man who is facing several charges in connection with a multi-day crime spree told deputies he brought a child along with him at times because he was “trying to toughen him up,” according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

Polk County deputies arrested 36-year-old Ernest McKnight III on Thursday. McKnight is facing several charges from both the sheriff’s office and the Lake Wales Police Department for a “series of crimes over several days.” Deputies say an 8-year-old boy was with him while he allegedly committed some of the crimes.

According to deputies, McKnight stole an empty, idling red Hyundaiparked along State Road 60 in Lake Wales on Nov. 7.

A man who parked his car along County Road 653 near the Lake Ashton community to walk his dog around 7 a.m. on Nov. 12 said he saw McKnight rummaging through his SUV. McKnight allegedly left the scene in the previously stolen Hyundai, according to the sheriff’s office.

A few hours later, a Lake Wales homeowner saw McKnight allegedly steal a package from their front porch. Lake Wales Police tried to pull McKnight over in the Hyundai but he refused to stop. The sheriff’s office aviation unit later found the car behind a home in the area of Rosalie Lake Road and Tupelo Lane near Lake Wales.

When asked why he had the 8-year-old with him, detectives say McKnight told them, “I was trying to toughen him up … I don’t want him to be soft.” McKnight was arrested and deputies say the child was reunited with his family.

The sheriff’s office charged McKnight with burglary of an occupied dwelling, burglary of an unoccupied dwelling, burglary of an unoccupied conveyance, grand theft motor vehicle, tampering with evidence, petit theft and three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He’s also facing traffic charges and a negligent child abuse charge from Lake Wales Police.