Issued by the Media Relations Office,
Public Information Officer Deputy Becky Herrin
Click here to read press releases on other Sheriff's Office events and occurrences
May 31, 2012
Search warrant served in Key Largo
Key Largo - Sheriff's Special Investigations detectives, road patrol deputies, and Border Patrol agents served a search warrant at 6:30 AM today on a house in Key Largo.
The warrant was served at 27 Rose Place. Inside the residence detectives located Andre Durrive and Liza Lopez. A search of the residence turned up 12.9 grams of cocaine pre-packaged for sale and 5.1 grams of marijuana also pre-packaged. Several scales for weighing the illegal substances were also found along with baggies for packaging and cutting agents used to dilute the cocaine. $812.00 in suspected drug proceeds were also seized.
Andre Durrive, 25 was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. Liza Lopez, 36, was charged with possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Agencies still searching for missing diver
The Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Coast Guard, Key Largo Fire Rescue and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have officers on the water searching for a missing diver. The man, a 62 year old from Illinois, was on a dive trip out of Florida Keys Dive Center this morning when he failed to return to the dive boat. The Sheriff’s Office was notified of his missing status at 10:30 a.m. A search by air and on the water has failed, so far, to find him. The search is continuing.
The man was visiting the keys with a group of people who planned to dive for three days offshore of the upper Keys. They all traveled to Davis Ledge, about three miles offshore of Islamorada, this morning. They paired off for the first dive of the day. The man’s partner said they went in the water and the missing man said he was having trouble descending. The partner suggested the man return the boat and get some assistance. He watched the man swim toward the boat on the surface, then descended himself to join the rest of the divers.
After the dive, when he returned to the boat, he realized his partner was missing and had not made it back to the boat. After a short search, the captain called a mayday over VHF radio. Two Sheriff’s Office marine units were close by and responded, as did FWC and the Coast Guard. Detectives are working right now to notify his next of kin about the incident.
May 24, 2012
Drug bust on Rockland Key; fighting chickens found
Detectives with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, Special Investigations Division served two search warrants today to complete a one month investigation involving narcotics dealers on Rockland Key.
The operation included the simultaneous service of the two warrants at the targeted residences on Park Drive, Rockland Key. Agencies that assisted with this investigation were Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigators and representatives from Monroe County Animal Control.
The first location was 502 Park Drive Unit - 2 on Rockland Key. Detectives and agents surrounded the apartment complex and made entry . During the search of Unit - 1 detectives located 20 year old Jorge Blanco Jr. A search of the residence revealed 3 weapons - a shotgun, a rifle and handgun, $3,306.00 in suspected drug proceeds and a scale used to weigh illegal substances.
During the investigative phase of the case, detectives had observed Blanco Jr walking to the property across the street numbered as 501. Detectives obtained permission to search that location. They located 169 chickens that appeared to have been used to fight. These chickens were found to have several injuries typical of cockfighting. Detectives also located blood in a cockfighting ring on the property along with several spurs, syringes and medication used to treat the chickens.
The second search warrant location was 502 Park Drive Unit - 1 on Rockland Key. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Special Weapons and Tactics team executed this search warrant, also assisted by the above listed state agencies. SWAT team members located Jorge Enrique Blanco. A search of the residence revealed 1.1 oz of powdered cocaine and $905.00 in suspected drug proceeds.
Blanco Jr was arrested and charged with 52 counts of animal cruelty and fighting and baiting chickens.
41 year old Jorge Enrique Blanco was arrested and charged with trafficking in cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia.
The SPCA will be dealing with the disposition of over 250 birds found during the service of both search warrants.
Detectives investigate scam kidnapping
Marathon – Two Marathon parents got a scare Wednesday when a man called to say he’d kidnapped their two children; the case turned out to be an apparent scam attempt to get them to pay cash in exchange for their children’s lives.
The victims received a phone call at 4:30 p.m. from an unknown man who said he had their son and daughter and wanted $1,500.00 in ransom money. At first, they suspected a scam, but became alarmed when they could not reach either child; their children are 14 and 21 years of age.
The victims called the Sheriff’s Office and Deputy Wilfredo Guerra and Sgt. Ken Fricke responded. When the officers arrived, the man was still on the phone with the alleged kidnapper, who instructed him to go to the closest Winn Dixie or Publix to exchange money for the children.
Deputy Guerra concealed himself in the victim’s car so he could respond to anything which might take place at close quarters; Sgt. Fricke responded to the local Publix grocery store to watch what happened from a distance. As the father spoke to the unknown caller, he was instructed to wire money to a woman in Puerto Rico. Just before he conducted the transaction, however, the two children were located safe and sound. At that point, the father was instructed not to wire the money because the caller was definitely conducting a scam.
Detectives are continuing to investigate this case and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been notified.
Anyone who receives a phone call like this one should notify law enforcement immediately and should not try to deal with it alone.
May 20, 2012
5/20 – 4:53 a.m. accident at 72nd Street in Marathon. Two vehicles with five people injured and transported to Fishermen’s Hospital. Roadway blocked until 6:08 a.m. FHP is investigating.
5/19 – 7 p.m. head on collision on the Long Key Bridge, 64mm. Both lanes blocked. 3 people injured with one airlifted to Miami. Road opened at 8:30 p.m. FHP is investigating.
Marijuana grow operation found by road patrol
Key Largo – A Key Largo man is in jail on marijuana charges after a road patrol sergeant caught him processing marijuana plants he had growing in his house.
Sgt. Jason Madnick was dispatched to 214 Loeb Avenue in Key Largo at 9:30 p.m. to check out a report of a possibly suicidal person. When he knocked on the door of a trailer at that address, a man yelled “Come in!” When Sgt. Madnick opened the door, he saw 49 year old Joseph Ebeling sitting in a chair, cutting up a marijuana plant. There were several more plants near his chair. Ebeling saw Sgt. Madnick at the door and uttered an expletive.
Sgt. Madnick asked him for his identification. Ebeling said, “I can’t go to jail for this, I was arrested by you guys 10 years ago for the same thing.” He then asked Sgt. Madnick if they could just throw the plants out and act as if nothing happened.
Deputy Ian Barnett responded as back up and Ebeling was taken into custody. At that point, Sheriff’s Office narcotics detectives were notified and responded to the residence for further investigation.
A search warrant was obtained. A search turned up 124 marijuana plants and one pound of processed marijuana, along with pipes for smoking the drug, a digital scale and growing equipment. Ebeling was arrested. He was charged with cultivation of marijuana, possession of a felony amount of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia and he was taken to jail.
May 17, 2012
Man arrested for domestic battery, drug charges
Stock Island – A Stock Island man was arrested on domestic battery and drug charges Wednesday.
A mail delivery person was in the vicinity of 8th Avenue at 2:30 p.m. when she saw a woman walking down the street talking on her cell phone. She saw a black vehicle pull up beside her; saw a man get out and grab her as she screamed for help. He forced the woman into the car and drove away. The witness called the Sheriff’s Office to report it.
Just minutes later, FHP Trooper Gary Dunnick was at the 7 mile marker of the highway when the vehicle described by the witness passed him northbound. He called for backup and got behind the car.
When the driver saw the FHP vehicle, he made a U-turn and began to return southbound. When the driver saw Deputies Jaime Miranda and Todd Jones headed in his direction, he slammed on his brakes and skidded off the highway.
The driver was identified as 40 year old Roddick Burress. Both he and the 25 year old victim told Deputy Miranda they’d been dating for about a month and had gotten into a fight. She said she left his house to calm the situation down. She said he came after her and, when she refused to get into the car, he picked her up and forcibly put her in.
Burress, who had a suspended driver’s license, was found to have marijuana and cocaine in his pockets. He was arrested and charged with domestic battery, driving with his license suspended and possession of the two illegal substances. He was booked into jail.
Couple arrested for stealing boat, attempting to steal another
Sugarloaf Key – A couple was arrested Wednesday after they tried to steal one boat and succeeded in stealing another one from Sugarloaf Marina on Sugarloaf Key.
Just after 7 a.m., deputies were called to Sugarloaf Marina to a report of s stolen boat. When they arrived, they found the boat’s owner and the two suspects at the dock. The owner, who lives on a houseboat offshore of the Marina said he looked out of the window of his houseboat this morning and saw his 21 foot Pursuit sport boat about 75 yards away. On board the boat was 25 year old Perry Townsend of Texas and 21 year old Amanda Habhegger of St. Johns, Florida. He motored over and asked the couple what they were doing on his vessel. When they didn’t have anything to say he instructed them to return to the dock and he called the Sheriff’s Office.
Further investigation revealed the two had tried to steal another boat first; they broke a window in the cabin and entered it, but couldn’t get it started.
Detectives interviewed the couple; Habhegger said they “were bored and wanted to do something reckless”. She also said they needed a place to sleep, so they took the boat offshore to sleep on it.
Both Townsend and Habhegger were charged with burglary, criminal mischief and grand theft. They were booked into jail.
May 14, 2012
Woman arrested after assaulting another woman
Islamorada – An Islamorada woman was arrested for burglary and battery Saturday after she entered another woman’s residence, threatened her with a knife and beat her.
The incident took place Friday and was reported on Saturday. The victim told Deputy Luis Gomez she hesitated to report the incident at first because of her immigration status but decided to call after the suspect called her and threatened to do it again.
She said she was in her Islamorada home, in the bathroom, when the suspect, 21 year old Miriam Gonzalez, walked in with a knife in her hand and began yelling at her. She said Gonzalez’ boyfriend walked in behind her and took the knife from her, but she said Gonzalez attacked her dragging her out of the bathroom. She said they continued to fight and Gonzalez punched her numerous times in the head and face. She said at one point she tried to call for help on her call phone, but Gonzalez threw the phone across the room.
She said she was finally able to get away and run outside. She called the Sheriff’s Office after threats by the suspect to repeat the beating.
On Saturday, after the victim reported the incident, Deputy Gomez went to the suspect’s place of work. She told him she knew why he was there. She said she had been helping the victim financially since the victim had come from Honduras. She said recently, she’d heard the victim was talking about her and it upset her. She said that is why she went to the house on Friday.
Gonzalez was arrested, charged with burglary, aggravated assault and battery and she was booked into jail.
May 12, 2012
Suicidal man jumps from Channel 5 Bridge
A suicidal man jumped from the Channel 5 Bridge today; he was later pronounced dead at Fishermen’s Hospital.
Dispatchers received reports of a white sport utility vehicle southbound at the 70 mile marker at 11:15 a.m.; the vehicle reportedly had a hose in the exhaust pipe leading to the cab of the vehicle. They notified deputies to be on the lookout for it.
Deputy Leon Bourcier spotted it on the shoulder of the road at the south end of the Channel Five bridge. As he stopped behind the vehicle, he saw the back hatch open; he saw a man later identified as 50 year old Stephen Gius of Lake Worth, Florida; Gius grabbed the hose leading to the exhaust pipe and pulled it back into the vehicle. Before Deputy Bourcier could intervene, the vehicle then pulled out from the shoulder and began traveling northbound.
Deputy Bourcier called for backup and began following the vehicle as it traveled northbound over the Channel 5 Bridge with several vehicles between them. As the deputy reached the top of the bridge, he saw the SUV had pulled to the side of the road and traffic had come to a stop. A witness ran up to the deputy and told him a man had gotten out of the SUV and had jumped off the bridge.
Deputy Michael Cofield was in the vicinity in his patrol boat. He’d heard the radio traffic about the incident and headed for the area where Gius had jumped off the bridge. He found him floating in the water; he was unresponsive, floating face down.
Deputy Cofield pulled beside Gius and started to pull him into the patrol boat. Suddenly Gius started to fight with him. He broke away from the deputy and began to dive under the surface of the water.
Deputy Cofield waved a nearby fishing vessel over to assist him. He was able to grab Gius by the belt. Two women on board the fishing vessel were able to help and they pulled Gius on board the patrol boat.
Gius was taken to shore where he was turned over to paramedics. He was transported to Fishermen’s Hospital where he was later pronounced deceased.
A handwritten note was found in his vehicle; on one side it said “I lost my wife, my business and my dog”; on the other side it said “sorry mother”.
May 10, 2012
Tennessee man dies while diving
Key West – A Tennessee man died while diving offshore of Key West today.
39 year old Ollie Macon Smithwick, from Cookville, Tennessee was on vacation with his wife, 10 month old baby and two friends. The three men intended to dive the Vandenburg, and to spearfish on the wreck.
They arrived at the wreck this morning and Smithwick went into the water in advance of his two friends. The other two divers entered the water about ten to fifteen minutes later. One headed toward the bow of the boat and the other toward the stern. The friend that headed to the stern was startled when he spotted a large fish thrashing around near the side of the vessel.
He swam back toward the bow and told the other diver; they then headed back toward the stern where they found what they think was a large Amberjack speared, thrashing around.
They traced the line from the fish back to the spear gun and found Smithwick who did not appear to be responsive. They tried to inflate his buoyancy compensator to get him to the surface, but were unable to. They returned to the boat and called 911.
The U.S. Coast Guard responded, along with a dive boat which was nearby. They were able to pull Smithwick on board a Coast Guard vessel. CPR was performed en route to shore, where they were met by paramedics, He was transported to Lower Keys Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
An autopsy will be done to determine the cause of his death. Major Crimes Detective Manuel Cuervo is assigned to investigate.
May 9, 2012
Three arrested for Marijuana in Marathon
The Sheriff’s Special Investigations Division arrested three people in Marathon Tuesday after finding marijuana plants growing in a home on Grouper Drive.
Detectives received information about a possible marijuana growing operation at 1301 Grouper Drive. When they arrived at the home, they made contact with the residents. They also spoke with residents of a small efficiency next to the home on the same property.
In the house they found a total of 39 marijuana plants and five pounds of processed marijuana. In the efficiency they found just over a pound of processed marijuana.
Three people were arrested in connection with the operation:
45 year old Marcela Delgado was charged with cultivation of Marijuana, possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia.
29 year old Jose Angel Martinez was charged with possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. Martinez is currently out on bond for cultivation of marijuana in Miami Dade County.
52 year old Jose Luis Diaz was charged with resisting without violence and an arrest warrant out of Polk County for Failure to appear reference Burglary, Grand Theft and Criminal Mischief.
May 8, 2012
Homeless man arrested on burglary charges
Key Largo – A homeless man was arrested in the early morning hours Monday, charged with burglary at two homes on Bahia Avenue in Key Largo.
The resident at a home on Bahia Avenue heard glass breaking and saw someone peering into his home with a flashlight at 4:15 a.m. He called the Sheriff’s Office to report a burglary in progress.
When Deputies Vaughn O’Keefe and Brian Cross arrived, they began checking the area. They heard a noise at a home next door to the victim’s. When they went next door to see what made the noise, they saw a man on the property. They confronted him and he fled.
More officers arrived on the scene and began searching for him. Investigations revealed a broken window on the first house and a torn screen and open door on a storage area at the second house.
As the investigations continued, deputies spotted a man walking on a dock; he was soaking wet and claimed to have been lobstering. He was fully clothed; his wallet and a cell phone were in his pocket, soaking wet, along with two prescription bottles, also wet; he had no lobstering tools with him, but was carrying a flashlight. A shoe in the water near his location matched another shoe found near one of the crime scenes. Deputy Cross, who’d gotten a look at the suspect before he fled identified him as the same man.
33 year old Kenneth Sutton was arrested. He was charged with two counts each of burglary, criminal mischief and possession of burglary tools. He was also charged with two counts possessing controlled substances without a prescription. As he was being arrested and transported, he reportedly became loud and threatening to Deputy O’Keefe. He was warned that he could be charged with assaulting an officer for his threatening remarks. In reply to the warning, he said his remarks “weren’t a threat; they were a promise.”
He was further charged with resisting arrest and he was booked into jail.
May 6, 2012
Search warrant served on Stock Island
Stock Island - Sheriff's Special Investigations detectives served a search warrant at a Stock Island home Friday morning, arresting one man on drug charges. The warrant was obtained after investigations revealed drug activity at the residence.
The warrant was served at Lot #4, in Water’s Edge Trailer Park on Laurel Avenue, Stock Island. Inside the home they found 56 year old Ramon Machado, who lives there with his wife. A search of the trailer turned up 13 crack cocaine rocks inside a closet in the bathroom, along with 5.6 grams of marijuana and rolling papers hidden in some clothing.
Machado was arrested. He was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute within 1000 feet of a church (Baptist Church on 2nd Avenue); he was also charged with possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia. He was booked into jail.
May 4, 2012
Vehicle hits pedestrian in Islamorada
At 11:50 p.m. Thursday, a vehicle hit a pedestrian at the 81.9 mm of Highway U.S. One in Islamorada. The pedestrian was airlifted to Miami for treatment. FHP is investigating the case.
Two arrested in Islamorada after drug deal
On May 3, 2012 detectives with the Sheriff’s Special Investigations Unit arrested 33 year old David Armstead of Miami after he sold undercover operatives a combination of 8 grams of crack cocaine and powder cocaine.
Armstead agreed to meet with an operative at an Islamorada restaurant to sell him the drugs at 6:30 p.m.. After money was exchanged for the crack and powdered cocaine, Armstead left the restaurant, and got into a 1998 Dodge truck driven by 35 year old James Landingham of Naranja, Florida, who has a suspended driver’s license.
A traffic stop on the truck was conducted and both men were placed under arrest. The truck was impounded along with $630 in drug proceeds.
Armstead was charged with sale of cocaine. Landingham was charged with driving while license suspended. Both men were booked into jail.
May 1, 2012
Joint investigation into reported school incidents reveals no threat
Monroe County – The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, the Key West Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been working with the Monroe County School District to investigate several suspicious incidents at county schools in recent weeks. The investigation has determined there is no threat to students and the incidents are not a security threat of any kind.
The first report of a possibly suspicious incident came from Marathon High School on April 24th; two men who identified themselves as Italian teachers who asked to tour the school after hours. They were granted a short tour and escorted off the property; afterward, because the visit made the school employees uncomfortable, they reported it to the Sheriff’s Office.
The school’s Principal, Hammond Gracy, also communicated with other school principals about what happened; shortly after that communication, other schools began to report similar incidents which had taken place in the past couple of weeks.
Key West Police responded to Glynn Archer Elementary School and Horace O’Bryant Middle School to take reports of visitors with possible foreign accents wanting to tour those schools early last week. Key Largo School recalled several people with foreign accents showing up on that campus two weeks ago asking for a tour; Islamorada’s Montessori School also remembered two women wanting a tour of the campus.
None of the reports indicated any threatening behavior by the people wanting the tours; but law enforcement and school administrators decided to investigate further just in case. Given the nature of the reported incidents, and the concern for the safety of Monroe County schools, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s local office was informed and became involved in following up the reports.
FBI investigators were able to determine none of the incidents were threatening in nature. They were able to identify and interview the visitors to the two schools in Key West and determined they posed no threat and were there for a legitimate purpose. They visited the Middle and Upper Keys schools as well, interviewed those school employees who were in contact with the visitors and determined those incidents do not appear to be threatening in nature and, indeed, appear to be isolated cases of people simply wanting to tour a schools.
At a meeting held today at School Administration headquarters, all the agencies involved discussed the results of the investigation into the reported incidents. Sheriff’s Colonel Rick Ramsay, KWPD Captain Scott Smith and Dr. Jesus Jara also discussed ways to streamline the communication process between the agencies in the future, and potential ways to improve school security.
“ We are just glad to be able to report these incidents were isolated, and appear to be innocent in nature,” said Colonel Rick Ramsay, after attending a final meeting with KWPD, FBI and School Superintendant Dr. Jesus Jara. “All the agencies involved in this investigation worked extremely well together with the goal of keeping our kids safe; we have determined there is no threat at this time. The fact that these incidents were reported quickly and investigated thoroughly shows the teamwork that exists between all of our agencies.”
KWPD Captain Scott Smith had positive words about the multi-jurisdictional effort as well. “The City Police, County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI have always had a good working relationship,” he said. “This joint investigation just goes to show that relationship extends to the School District as well. The safety of our kids is important to all of us and we are just glad this investigation turned up no threat to our kids or to our schools.”
“Security on our school campuses is always of paramount importance to us,” said Dr. Jara. “When these incidents came to light, we promptly brought them to the attention of law enforcement and worked with them throughout their investigation. We, as school administrators, must stay vigilant when it comes to the safety of our kids and we are just glad these incidents turned out to pose no threat to them, or to any of our employees.”