MIAMI (AP) — Relatives of a UPS driver killed after robbery suspects took him hostage and led police on a wild chase across South Florida questioned Friday why officers had to unleash a torrent of gunfire when the truck got stuck in rush hour traffic.
Both suspects were killed along with the driver and another motorist, who was waiting at a busy intersection when officers ran up and opened fire from behind the cars of innocent bystanders.
The chase and the final shootout were broadcast live on television, including the moment when one of the men tumbled out of the truck, mortally wounded.
The UPS driver was identified by his family as Frank Ordonez, a father of two who was filling in on someone else’s route Thursday when the robbery suspects commandeered his truck.
“I saw on TV when he fell, and I knew it was him. I saw how they killed my brother,” Luis Ordonez told The Associated Press on Friday.
He said the “police were insane. Instead of talking to them, they just started shooting. I know they (the robbery suspects) were shooting back at them, but it was easy to just cover behind police cars. They could have just covered themselves.”
Television news helicopters showed first responders tending to the person who fell out of the truck, moments after the gunfire ended in Miramar, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of the bank robbery.
FBI Special Agent in Charge George Piro was asked at a news conference Thursday night whether either the UPS driver or the other victim could have been killed by police bullets.
“It is very, very early on in the investigation and it would be completely inappropriate to discuss that,” Piro said. “We have just began to process the crime scene. As you can imagine, this is going to be a very complicated crime scene.”
“It’s very early in the investigative process,” Piro also said. “There are a lot of questions that are still unanswered.”
A fundraising appeal by Ordonez’s brother Roy accused the officers of being “trigger happy” and said “they could have killed many more people.”
Multiple agencies were involved in the chase and the final shootout. But the Coral Gables Police Chief, Ed Hudak, suggested that the blame belongs with the robbery suspects.
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“This is what dangerous people do to get away,” Hudak said. “And this is what people will do to avoid capture.”
Thor Eells, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, said the officers confronting the boxed-in UPS truck faced a tough situation. The robbers appeared to be firing at them, endangering not only Ordonez but the dozens of people in the surrounding cars. He said the officers did need to stop the suspects by containing them to the UPS truck and returning fire.
“We have a situation with one hostage and the two suspects — what happens if one of them runs 10 feet and takes over a city bus with 50 riders? Now we have a situation that is 50 times worse,” Eells told the AP. He said if the truck had stopped in an isolated area, then officers could have pulled back and negotiated, but not in the middle of a crowded urban street.
“With all due empathy to the family, the officers had a responsibility not only to the safety of the hostage but everyone in proximity,” Eells said.
It all started shortly after 4 p.m., when police in Coral Gables received a silent alarm at the Regent Jewelers store in the city’s Miracle Mile area. Coral Gables Police Chief Ed Hudak said during a news conference that two suspects were at the store and that shots were being fired when police arrived, summoned by a silent alarm from inside the store. A store worker was injured, police said, and a bullet hit a window at the Coral Gables City Hall.
The suspects fled in one truck, then carjacked Ordonez’s delivery truck, leading officers on a chase into southern Broward County, running red lights and narrowly avoiding crashes. One rear door of the UPS truck was partly open, as well as the driver and passenger-side doors, perhaps enabling gunfire along the way. The UPS truck finally stopped in a middle lane at a busy intersection, caught behind a wall of other vehicles waiting for the light to turn green. On television, officers could be seen on foot, some with guns drawn, approaching the truck from the rear and the driver’s side.
Katherine Gonzalez said officers were in front of her vehicle, a few feet away from the UPS truck, when the shootout started “out of nowhere.”
“It was shocking,” she said.
On television, a torrent of shots could be heard. It wasn’t clear if any were fired from inside the truck. Piro confirmed that the fourth victim, in another car at the intersection, was “an innocent bystander.”
Hours after the chase ended, medical gauze, wrappers and other debris remained strewn across the Miramar roadway’s middle lane, next to the truck which still had its right rear door open. Traffic remained snarled, and it was not clear how long it would take investigators to clear the multiple crime scenes.
“We are deeply saddened to learn a UPS service provider was a victim of this senseless act of violence,” UPS spokesman David Graves said in a statement. “We extend our condolences to the family and friends of our employee and the other innocent victims involved.”