Monroe County Sheriff’s Office
Daily Crime and Information Report

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


July 31, 2011

Deputy struggles to keep man from drowning himself

Long Key – A deputy was injured Saturday night as he struggled to keep a Miami man from hurting himself.

Deputy Nicholis Whiteman responded to Long Key State Park at 11:30 p.m. to reports a man may have overdosed on hallucinogenic mushrooms. When he arrived, paramedics were on the scene with two men. As the deputy pulled up, one of the men – later identified as  21 year  old Daniel Yepez of Miami – began running away; his friend ran after him attempting to catch him.

The deputy followed and the two men stopped on a nearby beach. Yepez began talking about hurting himself, then ran into the water with his friend going after him. Yepez then said he was going to drown himself and went under water.

Deputy Whiteman dropped his gun belt on the beach and went after Yepez to keep him from hurting himself. Yepez struggled violently with the deputy in the water, at one point hitting the deputy in the eye with his elbow. Deputy Whiteman held Yepez in a bear hug in the water, keeping his head above water, until paramedics arrived to assist him.

Yepez was finally handcuffed and removed from the water. His friends told deputies he’d ingested mushrooms earlier and had begun acting strangely, talking about death. A small amount of marijuana was found which Yepez said was his. Yepez was transported to Fishermen’s Hospital, and was then booked into jail for resisting arrest with violence, possessing marijuana and possessing drug paraphernalia. When he was released from the hospital, Yepez thanked Deputy Whiteman for saving his life.

Deputy Whiteman was treated on the scene for a cut near his eye.

July 29, 2011

Man dies after ingesting possible cocaine from brick found offshore

Note: the two men in this press release were not taking part in the two day sport lobster season. They were fishing.

Fiesta Key – A Merritt Island man has died in a Miami hospital after he ingested an unknown substance – possibly cocaine - from a brick he found floating offshore of the Middle Keys.

53 year old Thomas Swindal was offshore of Marathon Thursday, trolling in about 200 feet of water on a boat with his brother, Kenneth Swindal. The brother told Detective Mark Maison they believed the package to be a kilo of cocaine. He said they discussed what to do with it, and then threw it into a bait well on the boat and kept fishing. He said he looked back at his brother a short time later and saw him opening the package and ingesting some of the substance that was inside.

He said about an hour and a half later, his brother began to act strangely. He began running around the boat, throwing things in the water including a cell phone and a VHF radio. He reportedly picked up knives, a pair of pliers, a gaff and at one point, removed the cowling from the engine which fell overboard and sank. He gaffed the engine, damaging it so it wouldn’t start.

The brother said he threw all the sharp objects off of the boat, and also threw the package overboard as well. The package was not recovered.

Because he had no means of communication left, and the boat wouldn’t start, the brother climbed up on the top of the boat and began signaling for help. A nearby vessel responded and called for help. The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission responded and transported the two brothers in to shore where they were met by paramedics.

Thomas Swindal was taken to Fishermen’s Hospital and later transferred to South Miami Hospital where he died earlier today. An autopsy will be done to determine the cause of his death.

The Sheriff’s Office asks that anyone finding any object they suspect to be contraband call for law enforcement assistance immediately. Do not touch the object or substance or bring it into your boat; if possible, keep it in view and wait for law enforcement to respond to take custody of it. It certainly is never safe to ingest any substance if you do not know what the substance is, or what the potency of the substance might be.

July 28, 2011

Argument over stolen boat leads to injury and arrest

Lower Matecumbe Key – A family argument over a stolen boat led to a domestic dispute Wednesday.

Deputies responded to reports of a stolen 9 foot long boat at the Topside Resort Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. When they arrived, they found paramedics treating a woman who had a broken leg. The paramedics told deputies she was injured in a domestic dispute with her son.

Further investigation revealed the victim, her husband and her 18 year old son, Samuel Tripp, were in the Keys from Port Orange, Florida. They’d planned to go lobstering that day. They had two boats – a 9 footer and a 19 footer. When they walked outside to take the 19 footer out that morning, they noticed the smaller vessel was gone. They told the son’s girlfriend to call police to report the theft, then the parents and son went out lobstering for the morning.

Once out on the water, the 19 foot vessel became disabled and had to be towed in. When they got back to the hotel room, they found the girlfriend had not called police as she’d been instructed to. The mother became angry and made some disparaging remarks about the girlfriend; the son picked up the chair his mother was sitting in, dumping her onto the floor; when she hit the floor, her leg broke.

Samuel Tripp, 18, was charged with aggravated battery and he was taken to jail.

July 27, 2011

Massachusetts man dies while diving for lobster

Tavernier – A 54 year old man from Massachusetts has died while diving for lobster offshore of the upper Keys.

According to Major Crimes Detective Mark Coleman, Mark Fountain of Montgomery, Massachusetts was an experienced diver who was on a private vessel with his 34 year old son and his son’s girlfriend. They were scuba diving on the Oceanside of Tavernier, at Snapper Ledge when they became separated in the water. The son told officers he got into the boat and then picked up his girlfriend; they spotted the father a distance away, but when they reached his location they realized he was floating on the surface, unresponsive.

They pulled him into the boat and called for help, then headed in to shore. The U.S. Coast Guard met them en route and escorted them in to the Tavernier Creek Marina, where they were met by paramedics; he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival at the dock at 9:40 a.m. An autopsy will be done to determine the cause of his death.

So far, during the first day of the two day sport lobster season, deputies on the water and on land have been busy checking boats, checking coolers at boat ramps and warning people who are in violation of the new county ordinance making it illegal to dive or snorkel within 300 feet of improved residential or commercial shoreline, any manmade or private canal, any private or public marina. This ordinance applies to areas of unincorporated Monroe County, during the period THREE days preceding the two day sport lobster season, both days of the two day season itself, and the first FIVE days of regular season.

According to Sheriff’s Office Caller Aided Dispatch system, there have been 17 Marine Violations of various sorts reported today (as of 11 a.m.), and deputies on the water have made 12 vessel stops. These calls do not include minor contacts made by deputies in which no CAD call is assigned.

July 26, 2011

Silver Alert canceled; couple found safe

The Silver Alert, issued for an elderly Keys couple Monday night was canceled at 2 a.m. this morning when Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies found them, safe and sound, at a hotel in Palm Beach County.

87 year old Lena May and 88 year old Theodore Ritacco of Key Largo were located with their vehicle, staying at the hotel.

Their daughter, Donna Webb, was notified of their location and drove there to assist her parents with their return home.

July 25, 2011

Silver Alert being issued for elderly Keys couple

A state-wide Silver Alert is being issued for an elderly couple from Key Largo last seen this morning by neighbors leaving their home.

Lena May and Theodore Ritacco were reportedly last see leaving their home at in the Pirate’s Cove subdivision of Key Largo by a neighbor at 9 a.m. This evening, their daughter, Key Largo resident Donna Webb reported them missing. She told detectives the couple both suffer from dementia.

Lena May Ritacco is 87 years old and her husband Theodore is 88 years old. Photos of the couple are attached to this press release.

The couple is believed to be traveling in a silver colored 2009 Chevrolet HHR with the Florida license tag 1LST.

Anyone with information about where the couple may be should contact 911 immediately.

Detectives say shooting victims stable; release their identities

Key Largo – Major Crimes Detectives finally had the opportunity today to speak with the two people shot Friday night at a Key Largo trailer park.

21 year old Dayanis Gonzalez of Key Largo and 45 year old Braul Hernandez-Diaz of Islamorada are both still at the Ryder Trauma Center in Miami. They are in stable condition. Gonzalez was shot in the left shoulder and Hernandez-Diaz was shot in the abdomen and his left middle finger was also severely injured.

Gonzalez told detectives she moved to the trailer park, to Lot 4, just two weeks before the shooting took place. She previously lived in Islamorada. She said the suspect, 65 year old Rogelio Cordova Sanchez, lived three lots down from her. She said he was very friendly toward her, on occasion making her uncomfortable with his attentions. She said he frequently drank alcohol and would become more “sexual” in his remarks to her when he was under the influence.

She said her friend, Hernandez-Diaz, was over Friday to visit. While he was there, Sanchez knocked on the door. She said she told him it wasn’t a good time, and asked him to leave. He returned a short time later with a gun, shooting both of the victims and then himself.

July 23, 2011

Shooting leaves two critical, suspect dead

Key Largo – Two people are in a Miami Hospital in critical condition today and the man who is believed to have shot them is dead of what detectives believe is a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Major Crimes detectives are still trying to piece together what happened at the Key Largo RV Park at the 101.6 mile marker of Highway U.S. One at 10:30 p.m. Friday. Dispatchers began receiving calls of shots fired. When deputies arrived minutes later, they found a woman covered in blood with a gunshot wound in her shoulder. She told them she lived in Lot 4 at the trailer park and there was another person in her trailer who’d been shot.

When deputies reached the trailer at Lot 4, they found a second gunshot victim at the entrance to the trailer -  a male who was calling for help; he had what appeared to be gunshot wounds in his leg and abdomen.  They could see another male inside, not moving, with a gunshot wound to his head. A gun was near his body. The conscious male victim confirmed the other man was the one who shot him.

Both victims were flown to a Miami hospital where they are currently in critical condition. Detectives have not yet been able to interview them to find out what happened. They are also still trying to confirm the two wounded victim’s identities.

They say it appears the dead man – identified as 65 year old Rogelio Cordova Sanchez of Key Largo – is the suspect who shot them for reasons currently unknown.

July 7, 2011

Marathon man arrested for Marijuana

Marathon – When deputies stopped a man in the early morning hours for driving with a suspended driver’s license, they found 175 grams of marijuana in his vehicle.

Deputy Nicholis Whiteman was on patrol just before 2 a.m. on Aviation Boulevard when he spotted a white Lincoln. He could see the driver, 30 year old Duviel Gonzalez, and knew from previous contacts that Gonzalez had a suspended driver’s license. He called for backup and Deputy Nicholas Abroe responded. Deputy Whiteman pulled the vehicle over and placed Gonzalez under arrest.

As the deputy interacted with Gonzalez, he could smell the odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle. During the arrest, Deputy Abroe said he saw Gonzalez put something in the ashtray. The deputies found a pipe with marijuana residue on it in that location. They also found a “blunt”, marijuana formed into a cigar, in the same place. A prescription bottle with 800 milligram tablets of Ibuprofen inside was also found; the prescription was not in Gonzalez’ name.

A search of the vehicle turned up plastic bags full of various items, including clothing, in the trunk. In one of the bags, deputies found 175 grams of marijuana. A check in computers revealed Gonzalez has two previous cases this year for driving with his license suspended.

Gonzalez was charged with driving with his license suspended, possession of marijuana, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of a controlled substance, and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was booked into jail.

July 4, 2011

West Palm Beach man arrested for stealing fire department vehicle

Stock Island – A West Palm Beach, Florida man was arrested early today after he stole a fire department vehicle, then ran over a fire hydrant with it.

A witness saw the Ford Expedition, fully marked as a fire department vehicle, at 3:30 a.m. It was sideways, blocking a lane of traffic on Highway U.S. One at the 5 mile marker.  It was parked overtop of a fire hydrant and had a flat tire and had its hazard lights on  A man, later identified as ****name expunged*****, was standing beside it.

The witness pulled over to help. He  said ****name expunged***** offered him money to help him move the vehicle off the road. Instead, the witness called the Sheriff’s Office.

When Deputies Joe Cortner, Spenser Bryan and Scott Ward arrived, ****name expunged***** was still there. As the deputy began unraveling what happened, two men drove up in separate taxis. They said they were ****name expunged***** friends. One of them told the deputy they’d been drinking on Duval Street and had lost track of ****name expunged*****. They said ****name expunged*****then called them and told them to meet him at the five mile marker of the highway. One friend, 42 year old Justin McClain of Gainesville, Florida, refused to follow deputy’s instructions to stay away from ****name expunged***** ; he kept yelling at his friend, and was finally arrested for interfering with a law enforcement officer.

Deputy Cortner spoke with ****name expunged*****, who told him someone loaned him the fire vehicle. He would not say who. According to the deputy, ****name expunged*****smelled strongly of alcohol while he was speaking.

Further investigation revealed the fire department vehicle had last been seen in the parking lot of the Big Coppitt fire department at 10 p.m. Sunday. The keys had reportedly been left in the vehicle, along with a cell phone, which was later found in ****name expunged***** pocket. A member of the Fire Department responded to the scene and took custody of both the vehicle and the cell phone.

****name expunged*****was charged with grand theft auto and both men were taken to jail.


July 1, 2011

Corrections Officer arrested for DUI

Key Largo – A Monroe County Sheriff’s Corrections Officer was arrested Thursday night for driving while impaired.

Dispatchers received a report of a black truck southbound at the 98 mile marker of the highway, weaving in traffic. A second call reported the same truck had driven off the roadway onto the bike path, and then back onto the road.

Deputies found the truck at the 96 mile marker on the southbound side. It was parked up against bushes on the south side of a restaurant. The driver, Celso Hernandez, was in the driver’s seat with the keys still in the ignition. It was later revealed the truck had run out of gas.

Hernandez refused to participate in field sobriety exercises and had trouble standing up on his own. He was transported to the Monroe County jail, where he refused to take a breathalyzer test. He was booked on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.