July 28, 2014

Keep your gear safe while participating in sport lobster season

During this week’s two day sport lobster season, many visitors will be in the Florida Keys with their boats, boating equipment and dive equipment. With those visitors will come those who prey upon them: thieves targeting fishing and dive gear.

Every year during the two day sport lobster season, deputies take numerous reports about fishing and dive gear taken from houses, condos, hotels and boats. Usually, the gear is left unattended. Many times people report they left the gear outside to dry after a boating trip and returned to find it gone.

Keep this in mind and make sure you don’t leave valuable dive and fishing gear unattended at any time. It would be a shame to have your trip ruined by a thief who sneaks onto your boat at night and takes your fishing poles, or by someone coming underneath your house and taking your dive gear that is sitting outside to dry.

Another crime prevention tip: if you park your vehicle at a bridge approach, make sure you lock it and don’t leave valuables visible inside. We frequently get reports from people who have their vehicles burglarized while parked in these areas.

Two day sport lobster season is this week

The Sheriff’s Office would like to remind everyone the two day sport lobster season is coming up this week. Anyone who plans to participate in catching lobster in Monroe County during the two day season on July 30th and 31st should make sure to familiarize themselves with both state law and with local ordinances in the Florida Keys.

The Sheriff’s Office will have extra patrols at boat ramps, bridges and on the water during the two day season. Anyone caught with illegal lobster will be charged accordingly. All Sheriff’s Office boats will be on patrol, and deputies will also be operating a number of WaveRunners donated to the Sheriff’s Office by Riva South Motorsports. Riva South donates the WaveRunners  each year to be used for law enforcement purposes such as this, as well as for regular patrols of hard to reach shoreline areas and residential canals.

According to state law, during the two-day sport lobster season, recreational divers and snorkelers can take up to six lobsters per person daily in Monroe County. Spiny lobsters must have a carapace length greater than 3 inches to be legally taken during the open season. Divers must possess a measuring device, and lobsters must be in the water while they are measured. Harvest of egg-bearing females is prohibited. Spiny lobsters must remain in whole condition until they are brought to shore. Harvesters cannot use any device that might puncture, penetrate or crush the shell of the lobster. Night diving for spiny lobsters during the two-day sport season is not allowed in Monroe County, and all harvest of lobsters is prohibited in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park during the two-day season. Lobster harvest is also prohibited at all times in Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, Biscayne Bay/Card Sound Spiny Lobster Sanctuary, certain areas in Pennekamp Park, and no-take areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

A Monroe County ordinance makes it “unlawful for any person to dive or snorkel in any manmade water body or marina, or within 300 feet of an improved residential or commercial shoreline beginning three days prior to the opening of and during the entirety of the lobster mini-season and for the first five days of commercial lobster season.” This ordinance also applies in the cities of Marathon and Islamorada except that the restriction does not apply in Marathon the three days before the mni season or the first five days of the commercial season.

You must have a recreational saltwater fishing license and a spiny lobster permit to recreationally harvest spiny lobsters unless you are exempt from recreational license requirements. Information about these licenses and permits is available online at MyFWC.com/License.

Before, during and just after the two day sport season there will be more boats and trailers on the roadways, and more traffic in general. Sheriff Rick Ramsay wants to remind everyone to drive carefully. Pay attention to those around you, be patient and don’t pass in no passing zones. Drinking and driving is, of course, illegal; drunk boating is also illegal and our officers will be watching for this dangerous behavior on the water as well as on the roadways of the county.

“We enjoy all the visitors here in the Keys during the two day sport season,” said Sheriff Ramsay. “But we want to make sure everyone is aware of the law, and is behaving in a responsible, and safe, manner.”

Dive team assists with missing boater; body recovered

The Sheriff's Office dive team assisted over the weekend with recovery of a body of a missing fisherman at the DryTortugas. The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the case. Preliminary reports are a fishing boat sunk Friday in the early morning hours; one person was rescued by good Samaritan boaters while the other person on board was trapped inside the sunken vessel.

July 25, 2014

Sheriff’s Office organizes National Night Out events August 5th

On Tuesday, August 5th, the Sheriff's Office will sponsor National Night Out events in the Upper, Middle and Lower Keys. All of the events will feature food, refreshments, and a great chance to meet your neighbors, members of the Sheriff’s Office from a wide variety of divisions, departments and special teams and many others who are involved in the field of public safety and community service here in the Florida Keys.

The goal of National Night Out is to bring the community together to get to know one another and to discuss how we can all make our neighborhoods safer and more secure in the future. The Sheriff's Office will have extensive Crime Prevention information to share at the event. Community members will learn how to heighten their crime and drug prevention awareness.

The Sheriff’s Office hopes to generate support for, and participation in, local anti-crime programs and strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships. Everyone participating will send a message to criminals letting them know that Monroe County neighborhoods are organized and fighting back against crime.

“This yearly event is an important one for agency. We get the opportunity to meet the people we are charged with serving and protecting,” said Sheriff Rick Ramsay. “National Night Out is a lot of fun for us, and for those who attend. I hope everyone will take this opportunity to meet their neighbors, learn about Crime Prevention and meet the deputies who are out there patrolling our community and keeping it safe,” he said.

The Key Largo event will be Tuesday, August 5th from 6 – 8 p.m. at Key Largo Community Park. Captain Don Fanelli and Lieutenant Al Ramirez want to invite the entire community to attend their free event. Members of the Sheriff’s Office will be on hand, along with others from the public safety community; there will be food, refreshments, a local DJ will play music and everyone should have lots of fun.

The Islamorada National Night Out event will be held at Founder’s Park in Islamorada Tuesday, August 5th from 6 to 8 p.m. Captain Corey Bryan and Lt. David Carey invite everyone to join them and have some fun. Visit with members of the Sheriff’s Office, Islamorada Fire/Rescue and other public safety and community groups. There will be free food and refreshments.

The Marathon event will be held on Tuesday, August 5th from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Stanley Switlik School. Captain Gene Thompson and Lt. Derek Paul invite everyone to join them and have some fun. There will be free food and refreshments, and residents will be able to visit many law enforcement, public safety and community groups at the event. 

The Big Pine Key event will be at Big Pine Community Park on Tuesday, August 5th  from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.  There will be free food and refreshments and a wide variety of law enforcement and other public safety agencies will be on hand to talk with community members.

The Stock Island event will be at Bernstein Park, Tuesday, August 5th  from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. There will be free food and refreshments and a wide variety of law enforcement and other public safety agencies will be on hand to talk with community members.

Marathon man arrested after search warrant

A Marathon man was arrested on drug charges after a search warrant at his residence Thursday.

Sheriff’s Special Investigation detectives went to the home at 308 12th Street in Marathon at 11:30 a.m. to serve the warrant. The suspect, 35 year old Tanaris Walker Sr., opened the door. At the home, detectives found an orange pill bottle with nine small plastic bags of crack cocaine inside. The cocaine weighed 5.6 grams.. They also seized $667 in cash, presumed to be the proceeds of drug sales.

Walker was arrested. He was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to sell and possession of drug paraphernalia. 

Man dies while snorkeling offshore of Key Largo

 A Georgia man died while snorkeling offshore of Key Largo Thursday.

71 year old John Marshall of Johns Creek, Georgia was on board a 25 foot private vessel with nine others near Carysfort lighthouse. The group was snorkeling shortly after noon. Witnesses say Marshall was on his way back to boat. When they next saw him he was face down in the water.

They pulled him into the boat. Another boat nearby pulled up with a doctor on board who began performing CPR. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission responded to the emergency and brought Marshall to shore at Ocean Reef, but he was pronounced dead.

Major Crimes Detective Vince Weiner responded and will be investigating the death. An autopsy will be done to determine the cause of Marshall’s death.

July 24, 2014

New Jersey man dies in apparent dive accident

A New Jersey man died after diving offshore of Key Largo Wednesday morning.

The victim is identified as 45 year old Gary Lanier of Kenvil, New Jersey. He was on a dive trip with his two teenage children, age 15 and 18. They were diving the Spiegel Grove with Blue Water Divers out of Key Largo.

According to witnesses, including his two children, Lanier began having trouble as he surfaced from his dive. One of the dive mates who was diving with the group said Lanier began having trouble while at the surface and she was assisting him. She said she helped get him on board the vessel. At that point he had become unconscious and stopped breathing so she began performing CPR.

The Coast Guard responded to distress calls and brought Lanier in to Marina Avenue in Key Largo. Paramedics transported Lanier to Mariner’s Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Major Crimes Detective Vince Weiner will be investigating the incident. There will be an autopsy performed to determine the cause of his death.

July 23, 2014

Sheriff's Animal Farm open Sunday, July 27th

The Sheriff's Animal Farm will be open this Sunday July 27th, between 1 - 3 p.m. Bring the family and come visit the animals at the farm, including horses, a cow, pigs, goats, bunnies, alligators, tropical birds, Kinkajous, Sloths, a Lemur, Kramer the Emu, a family of Patagonian Cavys, a skunk, an opossum, tortoises and turtles, snakes and many more. It is free of charge, but donations are welcomed because that is how the farm is sustained.

The farm has a few new animals to visit, including two Alpacas – Arabella and Snowflake - and Hemingway the Toucan. Come on out and meet them!

The farm is located just off of College Road, on Stock Island, at the Sheriff’s Office Headquarters complex. Groups may schedule special tours at the farm by calling Farmer Jeanne Selander at 305-293-7300. Visits to the farm are free, and donations are welcome

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.