Articles on this Page
- 07/27/13--15:25: _Police: Gunman in S...
- 07/29/13--12:25: _Credit union websit...
- 07/29/13--12:54: _One dead, four othe...
- 07/29/13--18:06: _Two seriously injur...
- 07/29/13--18:08: _After wild night de...
- 07/29/13--19:41: _Officials: Two foun...
- 07/30/13--16:04: _Stranded in the Gul...
- 07/30/13--17:05: _Fugitive arrested
- 07/30/13--17:08: _‘Best’ meth cook go...
- 07/31/13--12:31: _Fla. Cabinet may gi...
- 07/31/13--18:11: _BCSO deputies train...
- 08/01/13--15:58: _Authorities investi...
- 08/03/13--14:31: _Road temporarily cl...
- 08/04/13--14:30: _Driver made bomb th...
- 08/05/13--05:42: _Missing teenager fo...
- 08/05/13--05:43: _Panama City Beach p...
- 08/06/13--05:45: _BCSO seeking fraud ...
- 08/06/13--17:32: _Driver charged in b...
- 08/07/13--07:16: _Beer truck overturn...
- 08/07/13--11:22: _Coastal Community B...
- 07/27/13--15:25: Police: Gunman in South Florida standoff lived in building
- 07/29/13--12:25: Credit union website defaced by hacker
- 07/29/13--12:54: One dead, four others injured in crash
- 07/29/13--18:06: Two seriously injured in Back Beach Road crash
- 07/29/13--18:08: After wild night deputies find suspect sleeping
- 07/29/13--19:41: Officials: Two found alive after search
- 07/30/13--16:04: Stranded in the Gulf, 2 tourists hang on
- 07/30/13--17:05: Fugitive arrested
- 07/30/13--17:08: ‘Best’ meth cook goes to prison
- 07/31/13--12:31: Fla. Cabinet may give ok for USF to exhume bodies
- 07/31/13--18:11: BCSO deputies train for surf rescue
- 08/01/13--15:58: Authorities investigating suspicious death, child neglect
- 08/03/13--14:31: Road temporarily closed after bomb threat
- 08/04/13--14:30: Driver made bomb threat after crash, Sheriff’s Office says
- 08/05/13--05:42: Missing teenager found in Walton County
- 08/05/13--05:43: Panama City Beach police seek help in finding missing teen
- 08/06/13--05:45: BCSO seeking fraud suspect
- 08/06/13--17:32: Driver charged in boardwalk deaths had Bay legal troubles
- 08/07/13--07:16: Beer truck overturns, snarls traffic // PHOTO GALLERY // VIDEO
- 08/07/13--11:22: Coastal Community Bank officials charged with fraud by feds
HIALEAH, Fla. (AP) — A man living with his mother in a South Florida apartment complex set their unit on fire and went on a shooting rampage throughout the building, killing six people before being shot to death by police. As the eight-hour standoff unfolded, horrified residents hunkered down in their homes, at times so close to the action they could feel the gunfire or hear negotiations between the gunman and police, authorities and witnesses said Saturday.
At one point, Pedro Vargas, 42, held two people hostage at gunpoint for up to three hours in their apartment until a SWAT team entered and killed him, police said. The hostages were not hurt.
"The crime scene is the whole building," said Lt. Carl Zogby, a spokesman with the Hialeah Police Department.
Police were called to the aging, five-story apartment building in Hialeah, a working class suburb a few miles northwest of downtown Miami, on Friday at 6:30 p.m. The first calls reported a fire, but when firefighters arrived, they heard shots and immediately notified police, Zogby said.
Vargas, who has no known criminal record, set a combustible liquid on fire in his fourth-floor apartment. Building manager Italo Pisciotti, 79, and his wife, Camira Pisciotti, 69, saw smoke and ran to the unit, Zogby said. When they arrived, Vargas opened the door and fired, killing both.
Detectives were investigating whether Vargas had any ongoing disputes with the building manager, as some residents believed. His mother was not home at the time.
After gunning down the building managers, Vargas went back into his burning apartment and fired 10 to 20 shots from a 9mm pistol into the street. One of the bullets struck 33-year-old Carlos Javier Gavilanes, who was parking his car after returning home from work. Zogby said his body was found next to his vehicle.
The gunman then kicked his way into a third-floor apartment, where he shot to death Patricio Simono, 54; his wife Merly Niebles, 51; and their 17-year-old daughter. Family members said Simono worked at a car wash and Niebles cleaned hotel rooms. Their daughter wanted to be a nurse.
All six people were killed in a short time span, Zogby said, and it's possible they were all dead by the time police arrived.
Officers and Vargas then engaged in an hours-long shootout and chase, with police following the gunman from one floor to the next.
"He kept running from us as he fired at us and we fired at him," Zogby said.
Several hours into the ordeal, Vargas forced his way into a fifth-story unit and held two people captive. Sgt. Eddie Rodriguez said negotiators and a SWAT team tried talking with him from the other side of the door.
Miriam Valdes, 70, was in a friend's apartment two doors down. She said she heard officers trying to convince Vargas to surrender.
"Pedro let these people out," Valdes said officers told him. "We're going to help you."
She said the gunman first asked for his girlfriend and then his mother but refused to cooperate.
Rodriguez said the talks eventually "just fell apart." Officers stormed the building, fatally shooting the gunman in an exchange of gunfire. Zogby said Vargas still had several rounds of ammunition when he was killed.
"He was ready to fight," Zogby said.
The hostages, identified as Zoeb and Sarrida Nek, were shaken up but not hurt, he said.
Police and neighbors described Vargas as a quiet man who had only recently moved into the building.
Tenants painted a mixed portrait of the gunman.
"He was a good son," said Ester Lazcano, who lived on the same floor as Vargas and his mother. "He'd take her in the morning to run errands" and to doctor appointments.
Lazcano said she was in the shower when she heard the first shots, then there were at least a dozen more. "I felt the shots," she said.
Valdes said Vargas was also known as a difficult person who sometimes got into fights and yelled at his mother.
"He was a very abusive person," she said. "He didn't have any friends there."
Zogby called Vargas' background "unremarkable." Police had not responded to any prior calls at his home.
"Nobody seems to know why he acted the way he acted," Zogby said.
As police investigated the crime scene, relatives of the victims began arriving to pick up their loved one's belongings. Residents came out of their complex and spoke among each other as the sky turned dark and threatened to rain. Some had large swaths of water in their apartment from the firefighters who responded to extinguish the blaze.
Vargas' apartment door and the ceiling outside it were charred.
Agustin Hernandez, Merly Niebles' brother-in-law, loaded several old pictures and other items from his relative's apartment in a grocery cart and into his car. One showed his teenage niece smiling in a red graduation gown. Another pictured his sister-in-law posing in a white dress and pearls.
A binder also from the apartment had pop artist Justin Beiber's name on the spine, presumably belonging to the teenage girl, who family members identified as Priscilla Perez.
Marcela Chavarri, director of the American Christian School, said the Perez was about to enter her senior year.
"She was a lovely girl," Chavarri said through tears. "She was always happy and helping her classmates."
In Hialeah — a suburb of about 230,000 residents, about three-quarters of whom are Cuban or Cuban-American — the block around the apartment building was closed off with crime scene tape. At about midday, officers removed a body from the building and carried it away in a van.
Detectives, meanwhile, tried to piece together every shot and every minute of what had happened.
"It could have been a much, much more dangerous situation," Zogby said.
PANAMA CITY - The Panhandle Educators Federal Credit Union website was defaced by a hacker Sunday morning.
The website’s home page read “Defaced By Silent Attacker” and showed a goth-like figure similar to Guy Fawkes, the English revolutionary whose image is now associated with the hacker community and protest movements like Occupy Wall Street.
The website, www.pefcu.org, was restored in a matter of a couple hours, said PEFCU marketing director Tanya Deal, and the security of account information was never at risk.
The credit union’s site, which is administered by a third-party, was not the only site effected, Deal said.
Last month, PEFCU changed its online authentication system for online banking. The credit union called it a security upgrade.
BONIFAY - A
Dwight Knowles, 57, died after the Ford Expedition he was a passenger in blew a tire, crashed into a van and rolled over. The driver of the Expedition, 24-year-old Fredrick Singleton of
The driver of the van, 58-year-old Elaine Foshee of
Two other passengers in the Ford, 42-year-old Lillie Singleton of
Everyone involved was wearing a safety belt and alcohol was not a factor in the wreck.
PANAMA CITY BEACH - Two
Ella Calloway, 74, was cited for violation of right of way after pulling out in front of a car driven by 41-year-old Onnie Galbriath. Galbraith had been driving eastbound in the outside lane before the crash at the intersection with
Calloway wore a seatbelt, but Galbraith didn’t. The crash was not alcohol-related.
Daniel Carmichael, 19, of
Then he allegedly stole another vehicle and drove it around, pausing to fire the gun several times before finally crashing the vehicle a few houses from the home where he was staying.
A man staying with
When Judy Brown swam to the shore and walked up to the beachside bar she was calm. Mary Henson remarked at the strength of the woman who asked to use a phone, but Brown had already made a couple calls before Henson put it all together.
“I said, ‘well you’re the one they’ve probably been looking for,’” Henson recalled Tuesday.
She was one of them. Brown and her Richard Smith, of
Smith and his ‘signifcant other’ Brown had taken a personal watercraft to
“When we left we didn’t realize they had stayed on the beach,” Smith said.
Smith was driving and he noticed their companions weren’t around. It was about 4:30 p.m. Smith, an inexperienced personal watercraft operator, was attempting to turn the craft around when it capsized.
They couldn’t right it.
Brown and Smith are in better-than-average shape than their peers, they said, but Smith later credited their survival with their ability to remain calm as they hung on to the craft for the next several hours; Smith said he takes after his mother’s side of the family that way.
Brown said she’s less patient than Smith, but she agreed with him, mostly.
“We kept our cool,” she said. “Actually, I fussed at him.”
Their companions had returned to
MBPD put a boat in water to search. So did the Gulf
“Everybody on the beach knew that we were looking for them,” Norris said.
But, for several hours Smith and Brown hugged that capsized personal watercraft, which, unfortunately, was jet black underneath. They watched rescuers pass by and overhead, but could not flag them down. They knew people were looking for them.
They had life preservers, but they didn’t have any kind of emergency signal. They had been in the water for hours when the sun started to set and Brown made the decision to swim for shore.
“After a few hours — I’m a social worker, so — I said I’ve got to do something,” she said. “I’m not very patient so…”
She considered taking off her life vest, but when she did she realized how weary she’d become and left it on. It took about an hour to get to shore.
“I don’t know how many miles I swam,” she said.
Smith stayed behind with the personal watercraft for a while longer.
“I was worried about her more than anything,” he said. “I was just praying to be honest with you.”
After a while Smith decided to swim for shore too, but he couldn’t make it in. The currents kept pulling him out. From the water he could see flashing lights.
“I saw the blue lights up on the beach, and I knew that she had made it, and they found her,” he said.
She tried to direct rescuers to the general area where she’d left Smith and the personal watercraft, but Smith had started swimming. It was about an hour before he saw a passing search party and called out to them. They heard him.
Smith was checked out by medical professionals. It had been about six hours since they went into the water. He was exhausted but fine.
By then, Brown had been checked out and cleared too. She was at the motel, where staff brought her blankets, food and Hensen got her something to drink. She was heartened by the community’s response.
“Really it’s a much better world than I thought it was sometimes,” she said.
Brown was pretty casual about the experience. She called it “just one of those things that happens.”
But FWC spokesman Stan Kirkland thought it was more than that. Swimming to shore against the tide was impressive, and finding a swimmer in the Gulf after dark was more than that.
“It’s just a miracle that they found him,”
PANAMA CITY BEACH - A man wanted for rape in
Deputies, in partnership with the
Billy James McMullen, 31, pleaded guilty to drug and gun charges on the eve of trial after prosecutors charged his mother with perjury in an official proceeding. McMullen changed his plea when prosecutors told him the charge against his mother would be reduced to a misdemeanor from a felony.
McMullen was arrested in June 2012, after a property owner entered their barn on
In the jail, McMullen was recorded in telephone conversations saying he “
Earlier this year, in an evidentiary hearing, McMullen’s mother testified that he was living with her, as his probation required. That turned out not to be true, as she later admitted in a recorded jail call, and she was charged with felony perjury.
TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Rick Scott and other top state officials are being asked to grant a request from researchers to exhume human remains at a former reform school.
Scott and the members of the Florida Cabinet will consider the request at their Aug. 6 meeting.
The move to ask the governor and the Cabinet comes after an agency reporting to Scott turned down the permit request from the University of South Florida.
USF researchers want to see if they can identify who is buried at the now-defunct Dozier School for Boys located about 60 miles west of Tallahassee. They also want to try to figure out how they died.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner in mid-July told the university that his department doesn't have the legal authority to grant the request.
On Wednesday that training was on display at
“We are not a lifeguard service,”
Basic law enforcement standards training doesn’t require potential police to swim, so don’t call members of the BCSO’s beach precinct basic.
Beach precinct deputies have been specially chosen because of their affinity for the water, Maj. Tommy Ford said. They are former Navy divers, the sons of lifeguards, and ex-lifeguards themselves.
They are all trained in water rescue, so they’re certified to save people in swimming pools. But this is surf rescue training.
It’s one thing to save someone from drowning in a swimming pool; someone with the right equipment can do that without getting wet, said Carol Wagner of the
The training they do a couple times a week is to familiarize the deputies with their equipment and develop a sort of comfort in dangerous surf conditions. Deputy Odis Lansford called it “a respect short of fear.”
The deputies also practice swimming against the current to build their stamina and endurance.
“It’s physically exhausting to do the rescue itself,” said Nagy, who has performed dozens of rescues. “You’ve got to get out here and get exhausted on your own to get used to that feeling, knowing that you’ve got to keep going.”
Deputies in the beach precinct know these waters like the back of their hands, said Lt. David Baldwin, and they wear swim trunks underneath their uniforms. They can spot rip currents, in part because they know where rip currents tend to form and because they’ve been doing what they do for as long as they have.
Even though most or all of the deputies on the beach have performed a surf rescue, only a handful are certified by the USLA. It’s not uncommon for a deputy to get into trouble during a rescue. It’s happened at least once this year already.
“It’s a very dangerous assignment for them,” Ford said. “It’s very important that we give them the proper training and the proper tools.”
The deputies of the beach precinct, as Nagy and others have said, are still police. They still have to patrol the streets, deal with car crashes, medical emergencies, criminals, victims.
They try to deploy a couple deputies as near the sand as possible to respond to water calls, but that means deputies in other areas have to scramble to keep up with their responsibilities,
Deputy Ray Maulbeck recently retired from the BCSO before returning. During his retirement he worked as a lifeguard at the beach’s only lifeguard station near the city pier with Daniel Shelley. Now he’s a cop again, but he’s leading the surf rescue training.
“Basically, we all have to do the work of 20 lifeguards in a — this six miles of beaches, we’re all we have out here,” Maulbeck said. “So … these guys have to be cops and then all of a sudden respond at a moments notice and be surf rescue, so we try to train in accordance with the USLA lifeguard association techniques.”
The spot where they trained Wednesday was chosen because of its tendency to generate the kind of nasty rips that get swimmers in trouble. Those rips come in handy for rescuers, who use the currents to pull them out to distressed swimmers quickly.
Shelley, aka Safety Dan, is a lifeguard, not a cop, but he joined the deputies for training Wednesday. The work of a lifeguard is more about preventing people from entering into dangerous situations than rescuing people. But if there aren’t any lifeguards it’s best to have trained rescuers, he said.
“This stuff is a start to having safer beaches, you know?” Shelley said.
GRACEVILLE — Deputies arrested a woman Tuesday who told them her boyfriend fell on a knife, according to an investigator.
Hazel Denise Peacock, 35, of Graceville, called 911 on June 17 after her boyfriend, 47-year-old Tony Armstrong, with whom she lived and had a child, sustained a stab wound to the chest at their home. Armstrong was taken to
Peacock is considered a person of interest in what Holmes County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Michael Raley described as a suspicious death investigation. Peacock told investigators Armstrong had fallen down the front steps of their home and landed on a small hunting knife. Peacock, Armstrong and their child were the only people at the home when Raley was injured.
Deputies brought in the Department of Children and Families (DCF) because of conditions at the couple’s home on State 2 and signs of drug use, Raley said. DCF took custody of the couple’s 16-month old child and performed tests that showed the child had been exposed to methamphetamine. Raley said the child was exposed to either meth smoke or the manufacture of the drug.
As a result, Peacock was arrested Tuesday on charges of child neglect. When she was booked into the
No information about the incident was released before Thursday to protect the integrity of the investigation, Raley said.
PANAMA CITY BEACH -
Emergency personnel responded to a crash near the intersection about 9 a.m., according to Bay County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Ruth Corley. Authorities received a bomb threat involving one of the vehicles shortly thereafter.
After the BCSO bomb squad did not find an explosive device, the scene was cleared and the road was reopened about 10:30 a.m.
An investigation into the bomb threat is ongoing.
A man who crashed into a golf cart and seriously injured two people in
Servando Sanchez-Uriostegui, 29, was driving a Jeep Cherokee eastbound on
Soon after the crash, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office received a phone call from someone claiming there was a bomb in Sanchez-Uriostegui’s vehicle. The area was evacuated, and the BSCO bomb unit and K-9 unit investigated. Deputies found a bottle of peroxide in the vehicle, and re-opened the area about 10:12 a.m.
Sanchez-Uriostegui was seriously injured in the crash and taken to
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Walton County officials found a missing 18-year-old Sunday night.
Dainier Ernesto Morero went missing on the beach in the area of the Beachcomber by the Sea condos at 17101 Front Beach Road on Panama City Beach about 5 p.m. Saturday, according to a news release. He was found walking by the side of the road in South Walton County Sunday, according to a news release.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Police are asking for the public's help in finding a mising 18-year-old.
Dainier Ernesto Morero was last seen on the beach in the area of the Beachcomber by the Sea condos at 17101 Front Beach Road on Panama City Beach about 5 p.m. Saturday, according to a news release. He was last seen wearing a pair of blue and black horizontally striped swim shorts.
Morero, who speaks both English and Spanish, is approximately 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 120 lbs.
Although Morero is 18, he has a mental capacity of a 10- to 15-year-old, the release noted.
Anyone with information regarding the case is urged to contact Beach Police at 850-233-5000.
The individual was captured on security cameras Saturday using a stolen credit card to make purchases at several
Officials described the suspect as a female in her mid-to-late 40s with curly, shoulder-length blonde hair. The woman was last seen wearing a pink shirt, tan shorts and flip-flops.
Anyone with information is asked to contact BCSO at 747-4700 or Crime Stoppers at 785-TIPS.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — A man who Los Angeles police say implicated himself in a deadly drive down a popular California boardwalk was jailed in Bay County in 2008 after police arrested him for drinking and driving.
Nathan Louis Campbell, 38, was arrested on suspicion of driving down a crowded boardwalk in Venice Beach, Calif., and hitting at least 12 people, one of whom died, The Associated Press reported.
Campbell was arrested by Panama City Beach police in April 2008 on a count of reckless driving with alcohol, court records show. The citation filed with the Bay County Clerk of Courts reveals few details about the incident, but Campbell was not involved in a crash and no one was hurt.
He pleaded no contest to the charge the same day, and court records show he was sentenced to pay about $300 in fines within a year or face 30 days in jail, but a member of the jail’s records staff said jail records show he was there from the day of his arrest until October 2008.
Campbell was a transient back then, too, according to the citation. He was driving a 1990 Dodge Spirit with Georgia license plates, and he had a valid driver’s license out of Georgia at the time.
Alice Gruppioni, a 32-year-old Italian on her honeymoon, was killed Monday in the Venice Beach incident. One person was injured critically, two were seriously injured and eight others sustained minor injuries. A witness to the incident described “blocks and blocks of people just strewn about the sidewalk,” the AP reported.
The incident happened near the intersection of
The driver was taken to a local hospital with injuries. No other vehicles were involved and no other injuries were reported.
Traffic will remain blocked until about 10 a.m., FHP officials said.
PANAMA CITY — Federal prosecutors have charged Coastal Community Bank officials with wire fraud, making false statements and making a false Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation claim.
Donald Terry Dubose, aka “Terry Dubose,” 65, of Panama City Beach; Elwood Ladon West, aka “Woody West,” 39, of Monroeville, Ala.; and Frank Alfred Baker, 61, of Marianna, have been charged by a federal grand jury with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud against the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of making false statements to the FDIC, and one count of aiding and abetting a false claim against the United States, federal prosecutors said in a news release.
A sealed indictment was returned by a federal grand jury on July 9 and unsealed Wednesday. The Indictment alleges that Coastal Community Investments (“Coastal”) was a bankholding company that owned Panama City Beach-based Coastal Community Bank and Port St. Joe-based Bayside Savings Bank. Coastal Community Bank and Bayside Savings Bank both failed July 30, 2010. Dubose was the chairman and chief executive officer of Coastal and the second largest Coastal shareholder. West was the chief financial officer of Coastal and a Coastal shareholder. Baker was an attorney for Coastal and Coastal’s largest shareholder, officials wrote in a news release.
This is a breaking story and we will have more information today as it becomes available.