A police chase that ended in a wild shootout left a UPS driver taken hostage and another innocent bystander among the dead Thursday afternoon in Miramar − and the hostage's family demands to know how police could let that happen.
Officers chased armed robbers who held up a jewelry store along Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, carjacked a UPS driver and drove all the way to Miramar, trying to escape. The UPS driver died in the shootout, though it's unknown who shot him amid a barrage of bullets amid traffic.
A bystander, identified by the Broward County medical examiner's office as Richard Cutshaw of Pembroke Pines, also died in the tumult. Don Slesnick, a lawyer for the union where Cutshaw worked, said Cutshaw had just left his office in Miramar before being killed.
He was sitting in his black Lincoln Mercury during the mayhem. Both robbers were killed in the scrum. The FBI identified them Friday as Lamar Alexander and Ronnie Jerome Hill. Both, who are 41 and from Miami-Dade County, have criminal histories, and one of them previously had held up a jewelry store, records show.
In an interview Friday afternoon outside his Hialeah home, Joe Merino identified the UPS driver as his stepson, Frank Ordonez, 27, a father of two young daughters. Merino says the aerial video of the shootout is proof that police acted inappropriately at the scene.
"The police are here to serve and protect," Merino said, "but where was the protection for my son?"
"He was murdered," Merino claimed, before explaining that he wanted "justice" and "transparency" from the police. Merino said he wonders why there was a rush to open fire at the truck before other options were considered, and notes that the truck his son was driving was riddled by 30 to 40 bullets by the end of the encounter.
"Those officers that created the chaos went home to their families, but Frank didn't. We need answers," he demanded. "We need action!"
Multiple police agencies responded to the chase and the shootout, including police departments in Coral Gables, Pembroke Pines and Miramar. The FBI has taken over the investigation.
In a news conference Thursday night, FBI Special Agent George Piro declined to give specifics on the shootout. "There are a lot of questions that are unanswered," Piro said. "Condolences go out to the families."
Officers from multiple agencies were involved in the shooting.
The Miramar Police Department would not say how many officers fired shots, but it has put them on administrative duty, according to spokeswoman Tania Rues. Other police agencies in the shootout didn't comment about the status of their officers. Miramar police asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to handle its investigation "for transparency purposes," which is standard for officer-involved shootings, Rues said.
A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed the agency is investigating four agencies involved. Miami-Dade Police Director Juan J. Perez would not return calls to the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Friday, but spokesman and Detective A.C. Colome − while not saying how many Miami-Dade officers fired shots − confirmed "the officers involved are on administrative leave."
A spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol on Friday referred questions about the agency's involvement in the shooting to a spokesman in Tallahassee who did not respond to repeated requests for comment by email and telephone.
An FBI spokesman said no news conferences were planned Friday to release more information. By daylight Friday, a milelong stretch of Miramar Parkway remained closed from Flamingo Road to Red Road. The hijacked UPS truck, littered with bullet holes, sat on the road among cars abandoned at the scene and scores of yellow evidence markers indicating shell casings and other items. The robbery and police chase reached its shocking conclusion in the midst of rush-hour traffic Thursday.
Scores of patrol cars and dozens of officers from multiple agencies surrounded the truck with their guns drawn when it got stuck behind slow traffic on the parkway. Muzzle blasts flashed from the truck. Police closed in on the UPS truck from the back and sides, firing off rounds at it. Officers used random vehicles in the traffic as cover amid the crossfire.
News helicopters captured the stunning aftermath: bloodied and seemingly lifeless bodies spilling outside of the passenger side of the UPS van and onto the pavement, as officers rushed in.
Footage shows Ordonez trying to escape
Ordonez, the UPS driver, appeared to be crawling from out of the truck while staying low. He next seemed to fall out of the passenger's door with both hands down. When the shooting was over, the UPS truck's windshield was riddled with bullet holes and somebody was lying on the ground in what appeared to be a smear of blood.
Paramedics could be seen loading a person on a stretcher into an ambulance. Another person in critical condition was flown by helicopter to Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, a spokesman for Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue said. Images showed the dark-colored sedan belonging to Cutshaw, the dead bystander.
Its windows and trunk were draped with tarps, and Cutshaw's body appeared to remain in the driver's seat. It was inappropriate to speculate whether police fire may have killed Cutshaw, Piro told reporters at the news conference. The ordeal began with an armed robbery at Regent Jewelers, 386 Miracle Mile, about 4:17 p.m. EST, according to Coral Gables police.
"This is what dangerous people do to get away," said Coral Gables Police Chief Ed Hudak. "This is what people do to avoid capture."
The hijack "turned into a hostage situation with the UPS driver," he said. The ensuing chase led police through several municipalities and two counties until it ended on Miramar Parkway near Flamingo Road in Miramar where the deadly shootout took place.
Ordonez could be seen in the truck, sitting on the floor near the center wheel well, during live newscasts of the chase. "We are deeply saddened to learn a UPS service provider was a victim of this senseless act of violence," said David Graves, a UPS spokesman. "We extend our condolences to the family and friends of our employee and the other innocent victims."
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.