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'Person of interest' in Oklahoma bicyclists' slayings arrested in Florida

Joseph Kennedy was taken into custody in Daytona Beach Shores, Okmulgee police say.

Police arrested a "person of interest" in the slayings of four Oklahoma bicyclists in central Florida — more than 1,200 miles away — authorities said Tuesday.

Joseph Kennedy, 67, was arrested in Daytona Beach Shores in a car "that was reported stolen to the Okmulgee County Sheriff’s Office" on Monday, police in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, said in a statement.

Mark Chastain, 32, Billy Chastain, 30, Mike Sparks, 32, and Alex Stevens, 29, were reported missing last week and were found shot and dismembered days later in the Deep Fork River, Okmulgee police said.

Okmulgee missing men
From left, Alex Stevens, Mark Chastain, Billy Chastain, and Mike Sparks.Okmulgee Police Department via Facebook

Just after they named Kennedy as a "person of interest" Monday afternoon, police said the man's blue Chrysler PT Cruiser was found “abandoned behind a business” in Morris.

Kennedy was driving near the 2800 block of South Atlantic Avenue at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday when a police license plate reader detected Kennedy's vehicle, listing the car as stolen and its driver as "missing," Daytona Beach Shores Public Safety Director Michael Fowler said.

Kennedy was arrested without incident and made no statement to officers, Fowler said.

"Upon confirming [with police in Oklahoma] his status as a missing person we were notified that he is a person of interest in a quadruple homicide," Fowler said.

Kennedy, who has an address listed in Okmulgee, on Wednesday was ordered held without bail by a judge in Florida.

He's being held on suspicion of grand theft of a motor vehicle and as a fugitive from justice, according to Corrections Department records.

Oklahoma authorities said they want to bring Kennedy back to their state in connection with a 2012 shooting in Okmulgee.

Kennedy in 2013 pleaded no contest to felony assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and misdemeanor obstructing a police officer, court records showed.

To avoid prison time, Kennedy had to meet conditions of probation until May 15, 2023, court records showed.

Oklahoma prosecutors said in court papers filed Tuesday that Kennedy breached his conditions and now should be sentenced for the two 2012 charges.

The assault charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years behind bars.

"There were a number of people who had broken into his salvage yard, and Mr. Kennedy alleged that he saw a gun, was fearful for his life and shot in self-protection," Kennedy's defense lawyer in that case, Luke Gaither, said Tuesday. "The state clearly had a different side of that."

The Okmulgee police statement Tuesday did not name Kennedy as a suspect in the deaths of the four bicyclists.

It was not immediately clear Tuesday afternoon whether Kennedy had hired or been assigned an attorney.

Kennedy got on the radar of investigators after they searched his scrap yard and found evidence of a "violent event" on an "adjoining property,” Okmulgee Police Chief Joe Prentice said.

Okmulgee police initially interviewed Kennedy on Friday, Prentice said, before he apparently left the state.

The four men were reported missing early last week after they left on their bicycles.

Prentice later said the men had been planning to pull off an undisclosed crime.

Investigators base the belief on the word of a witness who had been invited to go along as the men planned to “hit a lick big enough for all of them,” Prentice said, using slang for a profitable criminal act.