Monroe County Sheriff’s Office
Daily Crime and Information Report

Issued by the Media Relations Office,
Public Information Officer Deputy Becky Herrin

Click on the headline to hear an audio recording of the story

June 28, 2004

Flagler Beach man dies in apparent dive accident

Islamorada - A Flagler Beach man died while diving the Eagle wreck off of Islamorada Saturday afternoon.

According to a report by Deputy Kristy Jackson, 64 year old Peter Colella was diving with his dive buddy when the incident occurred. The buddy, who has reportedly been a friend of the victim for years, said they were on the bottom, approximately 110 feet deep. He said the visibility was poor, and he lost sight of Colella. When he surfaced shortly thereafter, he found his friend on the surface with people performing Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation on him.

Colella was pulled from the water onto the dive boat, which was operating out of the Florida Keys Dive Center. The Coast Guard was notified and responded with paramedics on board from the Islamorada Coast Guard Station. The victim was transported to shore by the Coast Guard and was taken to Mariner's Hospital where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy is scheduled for this week to determine the cause of his death.

Men arrested after receiving mailed package of marijuana

Marathon - Federal, state and local law enforcement officers working together arrested two men in Marathon for possession of marijuana after they received 24 pounds of the drug in a package delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.

48 year old Enriquez Valdez of Marathon and 52 year old Roberto Hernandez of Miami were both charged with possessing the illegal drugs. They were arrested at a residence on 2nd Avenue Gulf in Marathon just after 2 p.m. Saturday. The package was initially identified as containing marijuana by Postal Inspectors. They called the Sheriff's Office for assistance in the investigation. Detectives from the Sheriff's Office Special Investigations Division, working with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Postal Inspectors and the Drug Enforcement Administration were present when the two men were arrested. The drugs, which the men had removed from the box it arrived in, were recovered.

Examination of fingerprints belonging to Roberto Hernandez revealed he is also known as Ricardo Torres. Torres is wanted on Federal charges of Importation of Cocaine stemming from a 1991 case. He is being held at the Monroe County Detention Center on both the local charges and on the federal charges.

Federal charges may be pending in the marijuana case as well.

Stock Island man hospitalized after being hit in the head with a metal pipe

Marathon - A Stock Island man was airlifted to a Miami Hospital for treatment of a head injury. He was injured by a Marathon man who hit him with a metal pipe Sunday evening on Gulfview Avenue in Marathon.

A witness to the incident told Deputy Amanda Barger the victim, 48 year old Luis Delancer, was sitting in a chair outside of an apartment complex on Gulfview Avenue when 36 year old Alfredo Figaro hit him with a metal pipe twice. The witness said he believes the attack happened because of a long standing dispute between the two men. Figaro was found near his home on 73rd Street and was returned to the scene, where he was identified by the witness. Figaro admitted to hitting the victim with the pipe.

Figaro was arrested for aggravated battery and he was booked into jail. Delancer was transported to Fishermen's Hospital in Marathon, then airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami for treatment of a head injury.

Couple charged with burglarizing vehicle

Bahia Honda - A couple was arrested Sunday evening, charged with breaking the window on a car, stealing a woman's purse and using her debit card to obtain cash.

The victim, a Little Torch Key woman, said she parked her car at the Bahia Honda Bridge Sunday evening. She said she was returning to her car at 5:30 p.m. when she saw a beige colored station wagon parked next to it. She said the car pulled away and when she got to her vehicle, she found the passenger side window was broken and her purse was missing from inside. She reported the incident, and a description of the car, to the Sheriff's Office. About an hour later Sheriff's Office dispatchers received a call from the Chevron Station on Ramrod Key.The clerk reported a woman traveling in a beige colored station wagon stopped and tried to use a card in the ATM machine at the station but had trouble with it. The clerk thought it was suspicious, and said the car was traveling southbound.

At 7 p.m., Deputy Martin Harbin saw the same vehicle pull in to the parking lot of a Big Coppitt Key restaurant. Deputy John Gabay and Captain Chad Scibilia responded as back up. A man, a woman and two children were in the car. Investigations revealed the man, 30 year old Jorge Diaze,was the one who broke the window on the car and took the purse. His girlfriend, 36 year old Alma Hernandez, used the debit card at a convenience store on Summerland Key, and tried unsuccessfully to get cash with it on Ramrod Key.  Hernandez also initially gave the investigating officers a false name.

Diaze was charged with burglary. Hernandez was charged with fraudulent use of a credit card and falsely identifying herself to a law enforcement officer. They were booked into jail. The two children were transported to the Children's Shelter.

Young boy reports being sexually battered

Marathon - A young boy told Sheriff's investigators Friday that he was sexually battered several months ago.

Detectives from the Sheriff's Crimes Against Women and Children's Unit are investigating the allegations. No arrest has been made in the case.

Traffic Enforcement a priority over holiday weekend

Monroe County - Sheriff's Office Traffic Enforcement deputies will all be out working the holiday weekend to make sure residents and visitors stay as safe as possible on Monroe County roadways.

On Friday, the Traffic Enforcement Unit will be concentrating efforts from Key Largo to the 18 mile stretch, handing out tickets for speeding, improper passing and other unsafe - and illegal - driving practices. On Monday, the area from Islamorada to the stretch will get the same treatment. During the weekend, they will be helping out with all the special events planned throughout the Keys, including helping with traffic control at the Fourth of July Parade in Key Largo Sunday morning, and with the Fireworks show in Marathon and Summerland Key Sunday evening.

Traffic Enforcement Sergeant Glenn Test says his deputies are serious about making sure people are driving safely. "Make sure you are following the rules of the road, driving the speed limit and staying sober behind the wheel," he said. "If you don't, you'll see us behind you with emergency lights flashing and you will be ticketed or go to jail, depending on the violation in question, " he said.

Sgt. Test also wants to remind everyone about the Move Over Law - drivers who are approaching a law enforcement vehicle with emergency lights on at the scene of a traffic stop or accident must either move over one lane or slow down to 20 miles per hour below the posted speed limit. It is a matter of safety for the law enforcement officer, and it is the law. Those in violation of this law will be ticketed appropriately.

June 24, 2004

Arkansas teens arrested for auto theft

Marathon - Two Arkansas teenagers have been arrested in Marathon. They are accused of stealing a car from Arkansas, which they drove to the Keys.

The Sheriff's Office received a phone call reporting the presence of the stolen car at a home on Calle Ensueno in Marathon. When Deputies Mark Eastty and Harry Boyden arrived, they found the car, a red Mitsubishi, which was reported stolen from Arkansas. They also found the two teens believed to have stolen it. They were inside the house playing pool. The house belongs to a relative of one of the boys.

Investigations by deputies and detectives led to the arrest of 19 year old Joel Henley and 18 year old Nicholas Mullins for grand theft auto. They said they took the keys from the owner while he was sleeping. They also admitted to stealing from numerous gas stations and restaurants on their trip from Arkansas to the Florida Keys. More charges may be pending. The two were booked into the Monroe County Detention Center.

Big Coppitt Key man charged with Sexual Battery

Big Coppitt Key - A man staying at a house on Big Coppitt Key was arrested today, charged with sexually battering a woman and with outstanding warrants from another county.

The 40 year old victim called the Sheriff's Office just before 5 a.m. to report the incident. She told Deputy David Lariz the suspect, 40 year old Bryan Bertolino, could be found at a home on Avenue A, Big Coppitt Key. She said he'd held her down and raped her.

Deputy Lariz found Bertolino at that location. A check on his name through Sheriff's Office computers revealed he has two outstanding warrants from Osceola County for failure to appear in court reference to violation of probation. He was placed under arrest and detectives from the Sheriff's Office Crimes Against Women and Children's Unit responded to investigate the case further.

After interviewing all those involved, Bertolino was charged with sexual battery. He is currently in the Monroe County Detention Center.

Stock Island man arrested for burglary, theft

Stock Island - A Stock Island man was arrested Wednesday for burglarizing an apartment on June 16th.

24 year old Rolando Naranjo was arrested by Deputy Jorge Morffi after Detective Ben Lowe obtained a warrant for his arrest on charges of burglary and theft. The charges stemmed from a June 16th burglary at an apartment on 3rd Avenue, Stock Island. The victims reported to the Sheriff's Office that someone had broken in and stolen a digital camera, underwear and credit cards.

Detective Lowe was assigned to investigate and found that the credit cards had been used in several locations. He spoke with witnesses who identified Naranjo as the one using the cards.

Naranjo was booked into the Monroe County Detention Center, charged with burglary and theft. More charges are pending in the case.

June 22, 2004

Marathon woman arrested for firing a gun during a domestic dispute

Marathon - A Marathon woman is under arrest for firing a gun during an argument with her boyfriend.

Deputies were dispatched to a domestic dispute with shots fired just before 6:30 p.m. Monday on 21st Street in Marathon. When they arrived, they saw a woman fleeing the scene. They found the male victim still at the trailer where the dispute occurred, along with several witnesses to the incident.

The victim told Deputy Amanda Barger he and his girlfriend, 49 year old Michelle Layne, got into an argument outside their trailer. He said she first grabbed a tequila bottle and threw it at him. She missed and instead hit the windshield of a truck parked in the driveway, shattering the glass. He said she then went inside the trailer, returning with a small handgun in her hand. She fired the gun, pointing it in his general direction, but missing by several feet and again hitting the truck, leaving a bullet hole just above one of the tires.

He said she walked into the trailer with the gun and he pulled out his cell phone, walking away from the area and dialing 911 for help. As he was walking away, he said he heard a second gun shot from the trailer. That is when she exited the trailer, running up the road, away from the area. Deputy Chuck Kellenberger was first on the scene, followed by a number of other officers responding as back up.

Layne was found a short distance away and was returned to the scene. She was positively identified by the victim, and by several witnesses who were in the area, saw the fight and heard the gunshots. She was charged with aggravated assault, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, discharging a firearm in public, using a firearm while under the influence of alcohol and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. She had an injury on her arm which she said she sustained climbing over a fence so she was first taken to Fisherman's Hospital for treatment, then was booked into the Monroe County Detention Center.

June 15, 2004

Grassy Key man shoots himself after domestic dispute

Grassy Key - Sheriff's deputies responded to a domestic dispute with shots fired Monday at 8:10 p.m. on Coral Key.  They found an 18 year old man with an apparent self inflicted gunshot wound to his head.

Witnesses say 18 year old Matthew Smith got into a physical altercation with his girlfriend at their trailer at the Coral Key Village Mobile Home Park. During the altercation, she said he hit her numerous times and threatened her with a screwdriver. She said she was afraid he would hurt her more severely, so she decided to leave the trailer. A friend showed up to pick her and her three year old daughter up to take them somewhere else. She got into the friend's pickup truck. Smith came out of the trailer carrying a handgun and tapped on the window of the truck, pointing it at the girlfriend and her child. She said he threatened to kill them both, then said he would kill himself.

As they drove away in the truck, they heard a gunshot. They drove a short distance to Smith's stepfather's trailer and told him what had happened. The stepfather, who had heard the first shot, called the Sheriff's Office for help. A short time later, they heard another gunshot, just before the first Sheriff's deputies arrived on the scene.

Smith was found just outside of his trailer, bleeding from a gunshot wound to his head. He was airlifted by Trauma Star to Jackson Memorial's Ryder Trauma Center for treatment.

June 10, 2004

Detectives arrest man for sale, possession of cocaine

Key Largo - Detectives from the Sheriff's Office Special Investigations Division arrested a Tavernier man Wednesday night on drug charges.

On three occasions since January, undercover operatives have purchased cocaine from 50 year old Francisco Chao. On Wednesday night, they had three outstanding warrants in hand for him when he pulled his truck into a hotel parking lot at the 100 mile marker of highway U.S. One. When he got out of his truck, detectives approached him, identified themselves and informed him he was being arrested on the warrants. When they searched him after the arrest, they found a cigarette pack in his shirt pocket. Inside the pack was a plastic bag with cocaine inside.

An inventory of Chao's truck turned up more cocaine hidden inside two lighters, a total of 16 bags with over 18 grams of cocaine inside.

Chao was arrested and charged with three counts of sale of cocaine, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was booked into the Monroe County Detention Center.

Kentucky man charged with aggravated battery on future son-in-law

Big Pine Key - A Kentucky man has been returned to the Keys to face charges of aggravated battery. He is accused of beating his son-in-law to be in the face with his fists and his foot, sending him to the hospital with severe injuries to his face.

43 year old Stephen Cissell was booked into the Monroe County Detention Center Wednesday. He was brought back from Kentucky after an aggravated battery warrant was issued for his arrest. The warrant stems from an incident which took place April 7th at the home of his daughter and her fiance on Big Pine Key. According to the victim, Cissell was visiting them at their home at the time. The victim said he and his fiance got into an argument. The argument angered Cissell, who hit the victim in the face repeatedly, knocking him to the ground. Once the victim was on the ground, Cissell kicked him several times in the face.

The victim sustained broken facial bones and he was taken to Fishermen's Hospital for treatment. After initial treatment, he was referred to Miami for more specialized care. He still faces possible surgery for the injuries sustained during the beating. Detective Donald Catala investigated the case.Bond on the warrant is set at $50,000.00.


June 8, 2004

Three arrested for drugs after traffic stop in Marathon

Marathon - Three Florida City residents were arrested for possession of illegal narcotics Monday night after their car was stopped for running a red light in Marathon.

Deputy Chuck Kellenberger was stopped at the stop light on 55th Street in Marathon at 10:30 p.m. when he saw a 1998 Dodge Neon pass by on highway U.S. One. The car drove through the light, which had just turned red. He pulled the car over and issued the driver, 29 year old Cynthia Memminger, a warning. He asked her if she had any contraband in the car. She told him there was some marijuana in the car.

A K-9 team from Border Patrol was called to the scene. The dog alerted on a paper bag on the back seat and a purse sitting on the center console, indicating the presence of drugs. A search of those areas turned up both powder and crack cocaine and marijuana. More crack cocaine was found hidden in Memminger's bra. In all, deputies seized 7.2 grams of crack cocaine, 10 grams of powdered cocaine and four grams of marijuana. All three people in the car were arrested. Memminger and 33 year old Katrina Atkins were both charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. 30 year old Keyno Dean was charged with possession of marijuana. The car was seized for possible forfeiture.

June 4, 2004

Detectives target drugs in the Lower Keys: 20 people arrested

Lower Keys - In a day devoted to drug arrests, detectives from the Sheriff's Office Special Investigations Division arrested 20 people between Big Coppitt Key and Stock Island Thursday.

In the afternoon, detectives targeted several people who had previously sold cocaine to undercover operatives and who had outstanding warrants for sale of cocaine. 49 year old Carlos Benevides of Key West was charged with two counts of sale of cocaine; 29 year old Gerald Hernandez of Big Coppitt Key was charged with sale of cocaine; 52 year old Frederico Rodriguez of Stock Island was charged with sale of cocaine and failure to appear in court. Jacqueline Dean, 29, of Stock Island was arrested along with Rodriguez after she tried to throw away a small amount of crack cocaine during Rodriguez' arrest. She was charged with possession of cocaine, tampering with evidence and possession of drug paraphernalia.

At 5 p.m., detectives served a search warrant at #10 El Monte Lane on Big Coppitt Key, the home of 61 year old Harry Maiden. Maiden was arrested for three outstanding warrants of Sale of Cocaine. No drugs were found in the residence. There were a total of 15 people at the home when detectives arrived. Of those 15, five were arrested besides Maiden. Onelio Garcia, 47, of Stock Island had 15 crack cocaine rocks and two Xanax pills in his pocket and he was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and possession of a controlled substance. James Pender, 79, of Stock Island had outstanding warrants for failure to appear in court, violating vessel regulations and safety laws. He was further charged with smuggling contraband into the jail when he was found to be in possession of a small amount of marijuana upon arrival at the Stock Island facility. Charles Crawford, 59, of Stock Island showed up as the search warrant was being served and began to cause trouble, yelling at detectives and making threats. He was charged with resisting an officer without violence. 43 year old Cynthia Nathan had drug paraphernalia in her possession and she was issued a notice to appear in court, as was Lisa Burnette, 42 who had an outstanding warrant for resisting arrest without violence.

After the search warrant was served, detectives moved to the vicinity of Fifth Street and Fourth Avenue on Stock Island. Numerous complaints have been received about drug activity in that area from citizens living and working there. When they arrived, Tony Herrara, 29, of Rockland Key was there, along with another man, 33 year old Michael Cowling of Stock Island. Cowling asked Herrera for drugs in front of an undercover operative, who told Herrera he also wanted some drugs. Herrera went to a nearby trailer and came back with crack cocaine which he exchanged for cash. He was arrested and charged with sale of cocaine. Cowling ran when he found out police were there. He was caught a short distance away, but detectives did not recover the drugs he bought. He was charged with resisting arrest, tampering with evidence and solicitation to purchase cocaine.

Detectives then set up a drug sales operation using fake crack cocaine in an effort to target those people attempting purchasing cocaine. The Key West Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration assisted with the effort, along with the Sheriff's Office Special Weapons and Tactics Team. They arrested seven more people over the next few hours, all for solicitation to purchase cocaine. Most of them attempted to discard their purchase after officers identified themselves so they were also charged with tampering with evidence. The following people were picked up during the course of this effort:

June 3, 2004

Owner of Escort Service must move out of the County

Monroe County - The owner of an county-wide escort business that he ran out of his home on Big Pine Key pled guilty May 27th to four misdemeanor charges and two felony charges relating to his occupation.

48 year old Michael Knezevich, owner of the Heavenly Bodies Escort Service, was arrested April 14th after he was caught during a prostitution sting in Marathon. He was charged with forcing a person to become a prostitute, deriving support from the proceeds of prostitution, offering to procure a person for the purpose of prostitution and with transporting a person for the purpose of prostitution. Sheriff's detectives with the Special Investigations Division were investigating a number of complaints from citizens about the escort service operated by Knezevich, and other escort businesses operating in the County.

On April 28th, detectives served a search warrant at his home on Lobstertail Road on Big Pine Key. They found evidence that he was operating the escort service from that location, and found recording devices set up in several areas where it appears he may have been video taping sexual encounters without the knowledge of his partners. They also found two firearms in the house. At the time, Knezevich had a restraining order filed against him which prohibited him from possessing firearms, so he was charged with contempt of court and the guns were seized.

He appeared in court on May 27th and pled guilty to a total of four misdemeanor charges and two felony charges. He was sentenced to 10 days in the county jail and received four years of probation. As a part of the plea agreement, he must also sell his home and move out of the county within 90 days. One of the conditions of his probation is that he not engage in any type of escort business and that he have no contact with any victims or witnesses in the cases in question.

June 1, 2004

Key Largo man charged with threatening woman's life

Key Largo - Deputies were called to the 99 mile marker bayside Sunday at 10:30 a.m. to reports of a woman claiming she'd been attacked.

When Deputy Jose Carballo arrived, the victim told him she'd been in a confrontation with her boyfriend 61 year old Jerry Hickey. She said at about 7 a.m., they'd argued about something on board their houseboat. She said she was putting on her clothes to leave when he shoved her to the floor and held a knife to her throat threatening to kill her. She managed to escape and was standing on the edge of the boat getting ready to get off when he shoved her in the water. She said he jumped in after her and held her underwater, threatening to drown her. They struggled and he tore off her clothes. He climbed back on the boat, forcing her to stay in the water. She said she was in the water for three hours before a small boat went by. She said she screamed for help and the boat picked her up taking her to shore, where she called the Sheriff's Office.

Hickey, who was still on the houseboat, was placed under arrest. He was charged with aggravated assault and he was taken to the Monroe County Detention Center.

Deputy issued a notice to appear in court for reckless driving

Key Largo - A Sheriff's deputy has been suspended from work and was issued a notice to appear in court for reckless driving Saturday in the early morning hours.

A Sheriff's sergeant was on duty, traveling northbound at the 96 mile marker of the highway Saturday at 4:20 a.m. when a marked Sheriff's Office patrol car passed him in the same direction at a high rate of speed. He attempted to catch up to the car to see who was inside, but the patrol car sped up. Neither the sergeant nor Sheriff's dispatchers were able to contact the driver of the patrol car on Sheriff's Office radios, and his speed was increasing as he approached the 103 mile marker. Thinking it was possible the patrol car had been stolen, the sergeant turned on his lights and sirens in an attempt to stop the car and ascertain who was driving. The driver refused to stop and continued onto the 18 mile stretch, occasionally reaching speeds up to 120 miles per hour, weaving in and out of traffic and driving in an extremely reckless manner.

The sergeant asked Sheriff's dispatchers to radio ahead for assistance from Florida City Police, who were waiting when the patrol car neared that city. Florida city boxed the patrol car in and stopped it. Driving the car was Deputy James Freed. He gave no explanation for his behavior except to deny speeding and deny being involved in any kind of reckless driving incident. He said he was driving home from an off duty detail at an Islamorada resort. He was tested for alcohol and drugs and did not show signs of being impaired. He was issued a notice to appear in court for reckless driving, his patrol car was confiscated and he was suspended from duty pending a further review of the incident.

Heavy traffic results in many traffic stops and related incidents

The MCSO Traffic Unit conducted a series of traffic operations this Memorial Day weekend in the upper Keys.

Sheriff's Office Traffic Enforcement Deputies made a total of 483 traffic contacts, which included 348 tickets and 135 warnings, during those operations, which took place during the course of the holiday weekend. At the same time, Miami-Dade Police also conducted traffic operations just over the county line on the 18 mile stretch of U.S. One. There were also 7 criminal citations/arrests. Out of those totals, 60 tickets and 21 warnings were issued on CR905/Cardsound Road, while 16 citations and 4 warnings were issued on the Monroe County side of the 18 mile stretch.

The Traffic Enforcement deputy with the most activity over the weekend was Deputy Lin Badman who issued 53 tickets and 18 warnings.

Additional Traffic Statistics from the special overtime traffic details over the holiday weekend on the Monroe County side of the 18 mile stretch. Six deputies worked over the weekend just doing traffic patrols in that area. They had the following traffic related contacts:

A number of injury accidents also took place over the weekend, including: