Monroe County Sheriff’s Office
Daily Crime and Information Report

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

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July 31, 2014

Two reports of fishing/ dive gear stolen

Sheriff's deputies took two reports Wednesday of fishing and dive gear stolen from boats.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, Deputy James Hager responded to Seaview Drive on Duck Key to reports of a boat burglary. The owner said he was last on his boat Sunday. When he returned to the boat Wednesday, he noticed a number of items were missing including pole spears, a spear gun, fins, a weight belt, fishing tackle, and other items. The boat was parked in the front yard of the residence.

This morning, Deputy Hager spoke with a victim over the phone. She said she wanted to report a theftt from her boat. She said she would meet with him later, but was currently on the water diving for lobster. She told Deputy Hager someone had taken items from their boat overnight, including a fishing pole and three spear guns. She said the boat was parked next to her condominium at 150 Coco Plum Drive in Marathon.

The Sheriff's Office would like to remind everyone to secure valuable items in a safe place. Remove fishing gear, dive gear and electronics from boats when you are not on board. There are people that come to the Florida Keys for the express purpose of stealing unattended gear from boats left parked and unattended overnight.

Woman collapses after diving

An 18 year old woman from the United Kingdom collapsed after a dive Wednesday.

18 year old Eva Prendergast had been diving at 110 feet. She was on a dive trip on the Rainbow Reef dive boat. She reportedly surfaced and was back on board the boat when she complained of a headache. She then collapsed and was unconscious. She was put on oxygen and transported to shore where Deputy Dave Campbell met the boat at Key Largo Homeowners Park on Marina Avenue.

Prendergast was taken to Mariner's Hospital where she was reported to be in and out of consciousness. She was then airlifted to South Miami Hospital for treatment.

"Skeletal remains" turn out to be hoax

The Sheriff's Office and Florida Fish and Wildlife officers responded to reports of a body underwater offshore of the 7 mile bridge this morning at 11 a.m.. The "body" turned out to be a fake skeleton.

A Georgia man was diving with his buddy when he spotted what he thought was a body. He called the Sheriff's Office to report it.

Deputy Wilfredo Guerra responded by water, along with two FWC officers. Initial reports were the body had it's feet tied together, and it was anchored to a pole of some sort.

A diver recovered the "body" which turned out to be a fake skeleton. The skeleton was removed from the water so there would not be any such reports in the future.

July 30, 2014

Man charged with aggravated child abuse

A Big Pine Key man was arrested Tuesday, charged with aggravated child abuse.

On June 28th, Major Crimes Detective Manuel Cuervo was notified of a six week old baby transported to Lower Keys hospital after the mother called 911 to say the child had stopped breathing.

23 year old Humberto Rojas was playing video games and babysitting at a home on Donna Road, Big Pine Key when the infant stopped breathing. Rojas said the child had swallowed a baby wipe and had stopped breathing as he'd made efforts to remove the wipe from the baby's throat. He called the child's mother to tell her what happened and she subsequently called 911.

Doctors at Lower Keys hospital said the child's injuries appeared to be suspicious; they said the injuries were not consisent with the story told by Rojas. The baby was subsequently airlifted to Miami Children's Hospital for treatment, in critical condition.

Detective Cuervo continued to investigate the case, also consulting with physicians at Miami Children's Hospital, the University of Miami's Child Protection team, with the child's own physician and with the Department of Children and Families.

The mother was extensively interviewed, along with others who had cared for the child.

A warrant was issued for Rojas as a result of the investigation. On Tuesday, he was charged with aggravated child abuse.

It was determined, through this extensive investigation, that the child was developmentally incapable of swallowing a baby wipe on his own. The child's injuries included multiple rib fractures, a fractured leg and foot and lung contusions. These injuries were reportedly not consistent with the story told by the suspect to detectives and others who interviewed him.

The baby's mother said she'd bathed him the day before and did not notice any such injuries. The baby had been seen by his doctor on June 19th. The doctor said she did not see any such injuries at that time.

At last report the baby was recovering from his injuries at Miami Children's Hospital.

Man arrested for Stock Island burglary

Detectives arrested a Key West man for burglarizing a Stock Island business.

On May 28th, Sunset Watersports at the Hurricane Hole Marina reported someone stole cash from their rental booth on May 22nd. There was video surveillance in the booth which recorded the theft as it took place.

The manager of the booth told Detective David Cruz he recognized the suspect as an employee he'd just fired. He said it was 22 year old Donald Dorman.

Detectives Cruz and David Brummer went to Dorman's residence and questioned him. He admitted to taking the money. Dorman was arrested Tuesday and charged with burglary and grand theft and he was booked into jail.

Jul 25, 2014

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.

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.

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 19, 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

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

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 9, 2014

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.

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.

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.

July 5, 2014

Man charged with business burglaries

A Big Pine Key man was arrested early Friday, charged with stealing alcohol from a Marathon restaurant and “breaking his dog out of jail”.

Deputies Orlando Alvarez and Rosary Ponce responded to the Sunset Grille on Knight’s Key at 2:30 a.m. Friday to a report from a security guard, The guard said a man with a dog had come on the premises, then had fled on foot when confronted.

The deputies found 46 year old Luke Meadows underneath the Seven Mile Bridge. Beside him they found a dog he said was his and two crates full of bottles of liquor. Meadows admitted to breaking in to the Sunset Grille and stealing the bottles of alcohol.

While the deputies were interviewing Meadows, he told them he’d “broken his dog out of jail”. When they asked for further details, he admitted to breaking in to the Marathon animal shelter and removing the dog – a German shepherd chow mix - from a locked cage in the shelter.

Meadows was charged with two counts of burglary and one count of grand theft. He was booked into jail.

July 3, 2014

Man charged with knife threats, boat burglary

A man was arrested after he broke into a houseboat on Summerland Key,  then swung a knife at friends of the victim as they tried to retrieve items he stole from the boat.

The victim returned to her boat moored on Center Street on Summerland Key, at 10:20 p.m. Wednesday and found someone had entered and taken money, two bottles of Miller Lite beer and a partial bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey. She went outside and looked down the street. She saw a man sleeping next to a bicycle. When she got closer she saw the items stolen from her boat in the basket of the bike. She called two male friends for help.

When the friends arrived, the sleeping man – later identified as 36 year old Ted Williams – woke up. Williams began to argue with them, then pulled out a knife and began to swing it at the two men. During the argument, Williams was yelling that his name was “Lucky”. The victim told him she was going to call the police, so Williams fled on his bike.

When Deputy Sean Moran arrived, he searched the area and found Williams climbing out of the water behind the Shell gas station. He fit the description of the suspect and had a tattoo on his arm that said “Lucky”. He was drinking a cold, half full bottle of Miller Lite. The Miller Lite bottle was marked with the saem lot number and expiration date as the ones that were left in the refrigerator on the victim’s boat. A knife was found and recovered from the canal in the same location he was seen climbing  out of the water.

Williams was arrested. He was charged with two counts of aggravated assault, burglary and theft. He was booked into jail.

Miami man faces more charges

A Miami man, arrested on June 14th for stealing a boat and trailer from a home in Key Largo, faces more charges.

38 year old Giovanny Lluis was arrested after a traffic stop by Deputy Vaughn O’Keefe revealed he’d taken the $30,000 Hydra Sport and was headed northbound with it. He was initially booked on charges of grand theft and driving with his license suspended. His truck, used in the boat theft, was seized and towed. Detective Yunier Galvez was assigned to investigate further.

Inside the truck, Detective Galvez found evidence of more crimes. A GPS in the truck was traced to a home on Peace Avenue in Key Largo. The Sheriff’s Office already had an active investigation into  a burglary reported at the home. A second GPS found in the truck was traced to a home on Villa Bella Drive in Islamorada. Although there was no reported burglary at the home, Detective Galvez found evidence someone had entered a pontoon boat on the property and stole the GPS from the boat. The owner was contacted and identified the GPS as his. The investigation also revealed evidence that Lluis intended to sell the GPS units to an acquaintance in Hialeah.

Warrants were issued for Lluis and this week he was further charged with two counts each of grand theft and dealing in stolen property.