By Sean Bowes
Some families do everything together, it seems. Unfortunately, for the three Dougherty siblings, family activities ranged from high-speed car chases and police shootouts to a bank robbery and an eight-day, nationwide manhunt, which started on August 2, ended earlier this month.
The trio, Ryan Edward Dougherty, 21; Dylan Dougherty Stanley, 26; and Lee Grace Dougherty, 29, all lived with each other in Lacoochee, a small, poverty stricken town about 30 miles north of Wesley Chapel. All of them had arrest records before their wild ride began in Pasco County on August 2.
For Zephyrhills Police Department (ZPD) Officer Kevin Widener, it started as a typical Tuesday which turned into a chase that he says “trumps them all” compared with other calls he’s been on during his six years at ZPD.
Ofc. Widener was looking for speeders on a stretch of S.R. 54 three miles east of Wesley Chapel that has a 35 mph speed limit, when he noticed a late-model Subaru sedan passing by at 45 mph, 10 over the limit, so he flipped on his lights. With the sirens howling, the Doughertys’ Subaru gathered speed and a chase ensued, at some points reaching speeds up to 100-mph on S.R. 54. As the vehicles came across Allen Rd., heading towards Wesley Chapel, a passenger began firing shots at Ofc. Widener’s vehicle at 7:12 a.m..
“During the attack, I was concerned about civilian safety,” said Ofc. Widener at a recent news conference. “More than 20 shots were fired (at his cruiser).”
Eventually, the chase led to the CVS Pharmacy parking lot at 4910 Allen Rd., where a passenger again fired shots at Widener, this time striking his front left tire. He continued the pursuit until the tire went completely flat at Morris Bridge Rd. and S.R. 54, where he reported that the suspects were headed north.
Just minutes before the shooting started, Ryan, the youngest of the trio, had cut off his ankle monitor that was court-ordered, as he was convicted just one day before the car chase for his latest crime: exchanging sexually explicit text messages with an 11-year-old girl, making him a registered sex offender. It was reported that just before the chase started, Ryan had text messaged his mother saying, “There’s a time for all of us to die.”
The trio, whom authorities considered heavily armed and extremely dangerous, then spent the next few hours driving north before they committed their next crime, authorities say.
Lee-Grace, the oldest of the trio, is a stripper who worked at a club called Cheetah’s in Cocoa Beach. She said on her photo webpage that she is, “28 but I act like I’m 17 most of the time. I love to farm and shoot guys and wreck cars. I’m a redneck and proud of it. I like milk and German engineering and causing mayhem with my siblings.”
By the time the “Dougherty Gang” reached Georgia, it seemed they were ready for more “mayhem.” According to the FBI, three suspects matching the trio’s descriptions, entered a bank in Valdosta, and opened fire with an AK47 assault rifle, shooting at the ceiling, and stole an undisclosed amount of cash.
Ryan is believed to have purchased an AK47 two years ago at a Zephyrhills pawn shop, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO), said.
After the bank robbery, authorities around the nation began the manhunt for the siblings. Their mugshots were posted on billboards, social networking sites and reports came out from hundreds of different news channels and newspapers. Pasco Sheriff Chriss Nocco spoke to the media trying to get out information that would help lead to the capture of the Dougherty siblings.
“These are not just some kids,” Nocco said in a news report. “They’re street smart. They’re extremely dangerous, and they have an arsenal.”
After the bank robbery in Georgia, it is suspected that their next crimes were two separate carjackings in Pleasant Grove, Utah. According to Pleasant Grove Police Detective Jordan McNaughton, the trio are the main suspects where carjackers stole one car and abandoned it, and unsuccessfully tried to steal another, with weapons drawn. It was reported that the getaway car for the unsuccessful car theft was a white Subaru sedan with Colorado plates.
With the manhunt underway in nearly every state, the “Dougherty Gang” was spotted next in Colorado Springs, CO. The siblings were seen purchasing a tent from an REI outdoor sporting goods store, and they were spotted driving the same white Subaru sedan, which had since been reported stolen by Ryan’s girlfriend.
The next morning, August 10, it was reported that their vehicle was seen at a campground at the San Isabel National Forest. Authorities were then dispatched to the surrounding area, where they eventually spotted the Subaru at a gas station off of I-25. A Colorado state trooper approached the trio, who then took off in the stolen vehicle. It would be the second time the Dougherty Gang would lead police on a 100+mph police chase.
As the trio sped along at speeds up to 120 mph, they blasted gun fire at police cruisers behind them, Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk Taylor said.
As the pursuit continued, officers laid down a Teflon spike strip across the interstate, which sent the trio’s speeding Subaru into a cartwheel, with machine guns and automatic weapons flying out of the car, as it finally rested on the side of a guard rail.
According to the police report, Lee Grace tried to escape on foot with a Mac 11 pistol in her hand. Authorities shot her in leg after she pointed her gun at Walsenburg Police Department officers, who then arrested her, and her two brothers who gave themselves up shortly after the crash.
“I pointed a gun at a cop,” Lee-Grace later told authorities, “I deserved to get shot.”
Back at home, Ofc. Widener’s phone started ringing off the hook, as friends and coworkers wanted to let him know that the trio had been finally been caught, in Colorado of all places.
“I would have loved to have been there when they arrested them,” says Ofc. Widener. “I’m just so thankful that no one) was hurt. I prayed every night that (the Doughertys) would not hurt anyone.”
ZPD Chief David Shears says that the trio’s shootings at Ofc. Widener are the only time he can recall shots being fired at a ZPD Officer in his 20 years at the department. Chief Shears says since the Dougherty’s committed crimes all over the U.S., he is unsure of where they will be charged.
“I want the maximum punishment, and if that’s through the federal system, let it be through the federal system,” said Chief Shears.