Search Intensifies for Missing PCB Teen

Five days ago a Panama City Beach girl left her home to meet her boyfriend. Neither has been seen since, but Jennifer Benton's family has been concerned about her relationship with Blake Hardin, son of the former Rutherford head coach, long before she rushed out to meet him Wednesday morning.

The last time anyone saw Jennifer was in the parking lot of the Home Depot on Back Beach Road.

Investigators say her boyfriend, 25-year-old Blake Hardin, arranged for Jennifer to meet him there by having a friend call her.

Witnesses say Hardin got into Jennifer's car. They left the parking lot and disappeared.

Sgt. Deborah Norton of the Bay County Sheriff's Department is handing the case.

We are concerned because of the manner in which she left, without her purse, wallet, driver's license and we're concerned because of the nature of their relationship.

According to police reports and court documents, Panama City Beach Police arrested Hardin on Thursday, August 4. The misdemeanor charge was battery-domestic violence.

Jennifer's mother, Angie Malausky, told NewsChannel Seven Hardin had hit her daughter.

We're all concerned about her because he beat her up last week.

The family sent a letter detailing the couple's relationship to County Judge Thomas Welch asking him to keep Hardin in jail. Judge Welch ordered him held without bond in the Bay County Jail until August 8. That's when the suspect appeared before County Judge Elijah Smiley on the battery charge and pleaded no contest.

Judge Smiley fined Hardin $544, gave him 12 months probation and ordered him to stay away from Jennifer Benton.

But Hardin was already on probation from a drug case in Leon County. Authorities there have already issued another warrant for his arrest charging him with violation of probation.

And Friday, Bay County Sheriff's Sgt. Deborah Norton said a local warrant has now been issued for his arrest on even more charges: "sexual contact with a specific minor."

Hardin has a checkered past five with law enforcement. After starring as the quarterback for the Rutherford High School Rams and leading them to the state championship in 1997, Hardin won the title of Mr. Football for Florida and a scholarship to Florida State University.

But in 2000 Hardin was arrested in the parking lot of a Thomas Drive Nigh Club and charged with possession of the drug scoop. He lost his scholarship after more drug allegations later that year.

Then this May the courts granted Jennifer Benton a temporary restraining order against him, from another incident of domestic violence.

And, because Jennifer apparently willingly left with Hardin Wednesday morning, local investigators have not issued an Amber Alert.

But Sgt. Norton reiterated, "Victims sometimes waver, they go back and forth in these relationships, but we are definitely worried about her safety."

Angie Malausky just wants her daughter back home safely.

Benton and Hardin were last seen driving silver colored Lincoln LS with Florida license tag R84-2NY.

If you have any information about the case, please call your nearest police agency.

8195 Front Beach Road Panama City Beach, FL 32407 Station: 850-234-7777 News: 850-230-5221 Fax: 850-233-6647
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