PANAMA CITY, Fla. — The drama surrounding two teenage sweethearts on the run from the law ended quietly and unceremoniously in a Florida beach town.
Dalton Hayes, an 18-year-old suspected of committing a string of crimes with his 13-year-old girlfriend, agreed during a quick Monday morning court hearing to return to his home state of Kentucky to face charges.
Hayes and his girlfriend Cheyenne Phillips were arrested late Saturday night in Panama City Beach by the U.S. Marshals Service and local police after being found sleeping in a stolen vehicle.
During a first appearance hearing, Bay County Judge Shane Vann said "here's the deal" to Hayes: He could agree to return to Kentucky, or stay in jail while authorities went through a formal extradition process.
"I'll sign the papers so I can go back to Kentucky," Hayes said during the brief proceeding held via a video link-up between the Bay County Jail and the Bay County Courthouse. Hayes appeared fidgety during the start of the brief hearing, but responded quickly to Vann. He signed his paperwork while Vann watched and then was taken out of view back into the jail.
The saga of both Hayes and Phillips had attracted national attention after the two sweethearts disappeared and worked their way to the Gulf of Mexico.
The couple allegedly began their run from the law and their families earlier this month when they vanished from their small hometown in western Kentucky. Authorities believe their travels took them to South Carolina and Georgia before they ended up in Panama City Beach.
A Panama City Beach police report shows that an officer found a stolen truck in the parking lot of a home furnishings store just off the main highway that straddles Florida's coastline. Authorities surrounded the vehicle where they discovered both Hayes and Phillips.
Hayes' mother, Tammy Martin, had urged her son and his companion to surrender and "face the consequences."
Authorities said Hayes is expected to be charged with burglary, theft, criminal trespassing and criminal mischief.
Phillips will face charges in juvenile court because she is a minor. The police report shows that Phillips was turned over to Florida's Department of Children and Families and she was taken to a safe house. A spokesman for the Panama City Beach Police said Monday that her status had not changed and she was not being charged by Florida authorities.
Martin said the couple had been dating for about three months. She said the girl portrayed herself as being 19, and the family, including Hayes, believed her.
The girl "would go in and write checks, and she would come out with cigarettes and stuff, so I didn't have any reason not to believe she wasn't 19," Martin said.
By the time her son realized she was a mere 13, "he was already done in love with her," Martin said.
When he hit the road, Hayes was running away from trouble back home. He faces burglary and theft charges in his home county, stemming from an arrest late last year, according to court records in Grayson County, Kentucky.
He was planning to be at the local judicial center Jan. 5 to find out if a grand jury had indicted him on the charges, his mother said. His case did not come up, but by that time the teens were gone.