July 22, 2014

Key Largo man faces attempted murder, arson and animal cruelty charges

A man who set his apartment on fire in a suicide attempt was arrested today for two counts of attempted second degree murder, arson and two counts of animal cruelty.

On July 16th shortly after midnight, 48 year old John Merendino lit his apartment on fire in an alleged attempt to commit suicide. His two cats died in the fire. There were people at home in the two other apartments in the building who were forced to evacuate their homes because of the fire.

A woman in the neighboring apartment called for help when her smoke alarm went off. When firefighters arrived on the scene, they found Merendino in his apartment, in a bathtub full of water. As paramedics tended to him, he told them he purposefully lit the apartment on fire in an attempt to kill himself.

Big Coppitt Key man faces more charges

A man arrested late last week for burglarizing two vehicles, stealing credit cards and using them at area businesses faces more charges this week.

22 year old Eric Pazian was arrested last week after he used a credit cards stolen in car burglaries first to purchase items in several businesses in downtown Key West, and then to pay a cab driver to take him home. The cards were taken from two unlocked cars parked on Driftwood Drive in the Key Haven neighborhood on Stock Island. Detectives used the cab driver’s information to find where Pazian lived and to recover the cards he had stolen. Many of the cards were found in the bedroom of his residence; more were found in a car he’d been using that belonged to his roommate. In the bedroom and in the car, detectives found several credit cards belonging to two other women who lived at homes on Floral Avenue in the same neighborhood.

They contacted the women whose names were on the cards. Both women confirmed their unlocked cars had, indeed, been burglarized at about the same time as the first two burglaries Pazian was charged with. Neither one of them had reported the crimes.

Pazian, who is currently in the Monroe County Detention Center, was further charged with two counts of burglary, two counts of theft and two counts of fraudulent use of a credit card.

Man charged with taking repaired scooter without paying

A Stock Island man went to jail Monday for taking his scooter from a scooter repair shop without permission and without paying.

The owner of Island Scooters told Deputy Lazaro Valdes 48 year old James Whitley brought his scooter in to the shop last week for repairs. While it was being repaired he rented another scooter from the shop for four days. Once his own scooter was fixed, he returned the rental scooter. The shop’s owner told him he owed money for the repair and for the rental. Whitley said he couldn’t pay for it. The owner told him he could not have his scooter unless he paid.

While the shop owner was working, Whitley entered the back room of the business without permission and took his scooter without paying for it.

Detective Sgt. Donald Catala was on Flagler Avenue in the city on Monday afternoon and saw Whitley on his scooter. He was aware of the report taken by Deputy Valdes, and he stopped Whitley and called the deputy to respond to the scene. Whitley was taken into custody and charged with burglary, theft and fraud. He was taken to jail.

July 18, 2014

Islamorada clean up

 The group photo shows just a few of the 32 people who showed up for a recent clean up in Islamorada. Thanks to everyone who showed up to help!

Summer camp is great fun!

 The Florida Sheriff's Association Summer Camp held at Gerald Adams School wrapped up last week. All the kids had a great time getting to know the Sheriff's Office.

Painting at Big Pine Academy

 Big Pine Academy got a face lift thanks to members of the Sheriff’s Office who got together to paint some of the classrooms this week.

Two marinas in Middle Keys have boat equipment thefts

Sheriff’s detectives in the Middle Keys are investigating two incidents this month in which suspects stole GPS devices and other marine electronics from boats stored at area marinas.

On July 8th, four boats were reported to be burglarized overnight at the Driftwood Marina on Coco Plum Road. Between last night and this morning, six more boats were burglarized at the Duck Key Marina.

Detective Sgt. Tom Walker says owners of such businesses need to make sure they have working surveillance equipment and good lighting on their property to help guard against such crimes, and to help detectives identify suspects if crimes do occur. He also reminds owners that thieves can come by water as well as by land. He also recommends boat owners remove expensive electronics from their boats if at all possible.

“Over the next week or so I will be sending detectives to marinas in the Middle Keys to help owners with security survey’s of their businesses. We will make suggestions as to how they can make their property safer. It will then be up to them to implement those security suggestions,” he said.

Anyone with information about these crimes should contact the Sheriff’s Office. Callers may also contact Crime Stoppers of the Florida Keys. Tipsters can remain anonymous and, if a tip leads to an arrest in a case, the caller would be eligible for a cash reward. The Crime Stoppers hot line number is 1-800-346-TIPS. Tips may also be submitted on line at www.tipsubmit.com.

Man charged with vehicle burglaries, fraud

A local man is in jail charged with burglarizing two cars and using credit cards he stole from the cars at several local businesses.

On the morning of July 16th, the victims called the Sheriff’s Office to report their two cars had been burglarized overnight. Deputy Lazaro Valdes responded to their home on Driftwood Drive in Key Haven to take a report. The victims told him a wallet was stolen from each car; in the wallets were credit cards and various pieces of personal identification. The victims checked with their credit card companies and discovered several cards had been used at several different businesses in Key West overnight. One card had also been used to pay for a taxi ride.

Deputy Valdes contacted the taxi company to speak with the driver who accepted the card as payment. The driver told him he’d dropped a man off on Mars Lane on Geiger Key. He gave a description of the man to the deputy. Lower Keys detectives were assigned to investigate. Detective David Cruz went to a bar in Key West where the suspect had used one of the cards. He obtained surveillance video of the suspect at the bar. His description matched the description given by the taxi driver. In the video, the suspect was wearing an Aeropostle T-shirt and had tattoos on his forearms.

Detectives Cruz and John Underwood went with Deputy Valdes to Mars Lane where they began knocking on doors in the area where the taxi driver said he’d dropped the suspect off. At a residence on Star Lane, they found a man who recognized the suspect’s description as his roommate, 22 year old Eric Pazian. Pazian was sleeping, so they woke him to ask him what he’d been doing the night before. He denied committing the crimes, but on the floor of his room they found an Aeropostle  T-shirt matching the one in the video; they also found credit cards belonging to the victims. Pazian was arrested and booked into jail.

Further investigation turned up a vehicle Pazian had been using, parked in the parking lot of a downtown restaurant. The car belonged to Pazian’s roommate, who gave Detective Sgt. Donnie Catala and Detective Dave Chavka permission to search it. Inside, detectives found the rest of the credit cards and personal identification stolen from the two victims. They also found two bottles of liquor Pazian had purchased with a stolen card. Video surveillance from other businesses obtained by Detective Chavka also showed Pazian using stolen credit cards to make purchases. Pazian has been charged with two counts of vehicle burglary and multiple counts of grand theft, theft, credit card fraud and criminal use of another person’s identification without their consent. 

July 17, 2014

Key Largo man charged with compressor theft

A Key Largo man was caught on camera stealing a compressor from an Upper Keys business Tuesday.

Deputy E.B. Askins responded to Upper Keys Crane Service Tuesday afternoon and met with the owner who said a Nu Tone HVAC compressor valued at $1,000 had been stolen from the business. He said he discovered the theft after returning from lunch on Tuesday. When he checked his surveillance cameras, they showed two men in a gold Ford Ranger truck taking the compressor.

Deputy Askins received information the truck in the video might be at the Moon Bay condominium complex. He checked with someone who lives there. The resident identified a man named Jason Sergo, 33 years of age, who drives a gold Ford Ranger truck. Sergo is a known scrap metal hauler.

Deputy Askins issued a notice to be on the lookout for the truck and contacted the Homestead Police Department, asking them to check scrap metal yards in their area to see if Sergo had been to one of them with the compressor. A detective with Homestead Police discovered Sergo had, indeed, been to one of the scrap yards and had dropped off the compressor, which had already been destroyed.

Sergo’s truck was stopped in Key Largo  as he was returning to Monroe County by Deputy Jacques Rozek. When Deputy Askins confronted Sergo, Sergo admitted to taking the compressor. He was charged with grand theft and was taken to jail. At the jail, three plastic bags with cocaine residue inside were found in his pockets. He was further charged with introducing contraband into a detention facility.

Investigations are continuing in an attempt to identify the man who assisted Sergo in stealing the compressor.

July 16, 2014

Bicycle safety event in Key Largo

The Health Department will be holding a bicycle safety event on July 26th. Here are the details - mark your calendars now!

Bicycle safety event Saturday, Stock Island

The Monroe County Health Department is holding a bicycle safety event this Saturday on Stock Island. Here are the details:

Key Largo fire appears to be suicide attempt

A man injured in a fire in Key Largo admitted setting the fire in an attempt to commit suicide early today.

The fire occurred in an apartment on Bonito Lane at the 95.2 mile marker of the highway. The smoke detector in apartment A went off at 12:05 a.m. When Deputy Greg LaRochelle arrived at the scene, he found all the tenants had escaped the building except the tenant in apartment B.

Firefighters arrived on the scene and began fighting the fire, which they confirmed appeared to have started in apartment B. Inside apartment B, they found 48 year old John Merendino in the bathtub with the water running. He was breathing, but unconscious. Paramedics treated him and transported him to the hospital. While he was being treated, and in the presence of Deputy LaRochelle, Merendino admitted to starting the fire in a suicide attempt.

Merendino’s two cats perished in the fire.

The State and County Fire Marshall’s offices responded and will be investigating the case. 

July 14, 2014

Two day sport lobster season coming up

The two day sport lobster season is coming up at the end of the month - July 30 - 31st. Take some time to
brush up on the laws that apply to the season. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a terrific website with lots of great information about lobster season, and about other regulations that relate to saltwater fishing, diving, spearfishing and all the fun water-related activities we enjoy here in the Keys. Here is a link:

July 11, 2014

Cleaning up Stock Island

Deputy Lazaro Valdes, on Sgt. Linda Mixon’s squad in the Lower Keys, spends time each week working with Monroe County Public Works to clean up various areas of Stock Island. Here, he helped them with areas at 10th Avenue and on 5th Avenue. 

Cleaning up after the Fourth of July

 The Sheriff’s Office was out cleaning up after all the Fourth of July celebrations county-wide last weekend. Top left, some of the trash picked up from Indian Key fill in Islamorada by Lt. Patrick Major and a team of inmates; bottom left, Deputies Caridad Bellon and Shaun Lones from Sgt. Mike DiGiovanni’s squad pick up discarded and sometimes still live fireworks from the bike path at the 80 mile marker of the highway. In the two right hand photos, inmates from the Marathon jail pick up trash on Sombrero Beach after the fourth.

MCSO cleans up bay bottom

Dive Team members and boat handler Spencer Curry spent time Thursday cleaning trash from the Boca Chica bay bottom. They picked up three garbage cans full of  bottles and cans, along with a lower unit from a  boat, car tire and a foam mattress. This will be an ongoing effort as there is considerably more to clean up in that area. In the photo, Deputy Curry and Dive Team member Henry Hamilton.

K-9 team meets kids at summer camp

K-9 team Deputy Danielle Malone and Tracer made an appearance at the Florida Sheriff’s Association Summer Camp going on this week at Gerald Adams Elementary School on Stock Island. They showed the kids how Tracer finds drugs and the kids got to meet Tracer up close.

Explorers compete at state level

Explorers during domestic violence scenario training.
 Explorers attend State Delegates Conference
Sheriff’s Office Explorers and their advisers traveled to Osceola County in June to compete at the state level against many other explorer programs.
Competitions included firearms, active shooter, physical agility, traffic stops, crisis intervention, dealing with domestic calls and crime scene investigation.

Monroe County took first place in the active shooter competition, second place in physical agility and firearms in the .38 caliber category. They did very well in a number of other areas, including drill team and other firearms categories.

MCSO drill team did well in competition with other
counties in Florida.
Congratulations to Explorer Thomas Mirabella who was voted in as chaplain for the state explorer board. Adviser Deputy Will Schlegelmilch was also voted range master at the state level for his third consecutive term.

Competitions included felony traffic stop scenarios.

Explorer Thomas Mirabella talks to a suicidal subject
during Crisis Intervention training.

Adviser Deputy Nancy Torrijos and the first place
Active Shooter explorer team with heir trophy.

Advisor Deputy Will Schlegelmilch gives safety instructions
at the range prior to firearms competition.

Sunbelt Rentals good community partner

Sheriff Ramsay gave certificates to the two managers of Sunbelt Rentals recently for being great community partners. Duane Francis (in the picture) and Mike Werner are quick to volunteer services and equipment when we need them for our various community activities and it is much appreciated.

Communications Officers join Crime Stoppers Run

Communications Officers Ben Elmore and Ben Fox volunteered for and ran in the Crime Stoppers / Rotary 5K run/walk on July 4th in Key West. Ben Elmore is attending the local law enforcement academy on a scholarship funded by this yearly event.

July 9, 2014

Man arrested for burglarizing motor home

A Key Largo man was arrested after he was caught leaving the scene of a burglary of a motor home.

Just before 6 a.m. today, Deputies Brian Cross,  Pedro Garcia and Jacques Rozek responded to North Blackwater Lane to check out a report of a suspicious person in the area. When they arrived, they found 53 year old Julio Maximo Fernandez. He was pushing a bicycle and a shopping card which had numerous items of clothing still on hangers, bed linens and bottles of wine inside. When asked about the items in the cart, he said he got them from a nearby dumpster.

A check of the area revealed a motor home with the doors wide open which appeared to have been ransacked. The homeowners where the motor home was parked were contacted. They said the motor home was theirs. They also identified the items in the shopping cart as belonging to them and coming from inside their motor home.

Fernandez was arrested, charged with burglary and grand theft, and he was booked into jail.

Miami man arrested on multiple drug charges

A Miami man was arrested Tuesday night, charged with possessing cocaine and multiple types of pills as well as drug paraphernalia.

Sergeants Evan Calhoun and Linda Mixon were inside the Circle K Store on Big Coppitt Key at 10 p.m. Sgt. Calhoun walked into the men’s restroom at the store and saw a man sitting backward on the toilet snorting something off the back of the toilet with his nose.

When 61 year old Kenneth Kukec exited the restroom, he had his hands in his pockets and refused to remove them when ordered to. The officers removed his hands from his pockets and escorted him outside the store for further investigation. In one of the pockets where he had his hands, Sgt. Calhoun found an open pocket knife. A plastic bag with white powder inside was also found in his pants pocket. A swab of the back of the toilet was positive for the presence of cocaine.

A zippered pouch was found stuffed in the back of his shorts. Inside the zippered pouch the officers found syringes, more cocaine, a pill crusher and three bottles of various types of pills. The pills were identified as controlled substances prescribed to persons other than Kukec.

Kukec had a rental car parked at the gas pumps at the store. In the trunk of the car deputies found a briefcase. In the briefcase they found four more pill bottles containing more controlled substances which were not in Kukec’s name.

Kukec was charged with possession of cocaine, four counts possession of a controlled substance without a prescription, four counts possession of drug paraphernalia and resisting arrest. He was booked into jail.

Marathon man charged with robbing, beating another man

A Marathon man was arrested for robbing and beating another man Sunday night.

Just after 11 p.m., Sgt. Spenser Bryan and Deputy Orlando Alvarez responded to 3520 Overseas Highway where they met with the victim, who said he’d been beaten and robbed by 39 year old Kenyatta Scott. He said he was on 41st Street in Marathon when he was confronted by Scott, who demanded money from him. When the victim told Scott he had no money, Scott attacked him hitting him in the face and knocking him to the ground. Scott beat him with a belt, then checked the victim’s pockets taking the two dollars he had then leaving the scene on foot.

As the officers were investigating, Scott walked up with a belt over his shoulder. When Deputy Alvarez asked him why he had the belt, Scott said “I whooped him with it”. A witness who saw the incident take place corroborated the victim’s statement.

Scott was arrested. He was charged with battery and robbery and he was booked into jail.