Law enforcement stand near a vehicle that appears to be part of the crime scene where four people were killed, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 in Miramar, Fla. (Photo: AP)
Relatives of a UPS driver killed after robbery suspects took him hostage on a wild police 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, 41-year-old cousins Lamar Alexander and Ronnie Jerome Hill, were killed along with the driver, Frank Ordonez, 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 final shootout were broadcast live on television, including the moment when one of the men tumbled out of the truck, mortally wounded.
Ordonez’s family said the father of two 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.”
News helicopters showed first responders tending to the person who fell from the truck, moments after the gunfire ended in Miramar, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of the jewelry store 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’ve 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.”
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 shootout. But Coral Gables Police Chief Ed Hudak suggested the blame belongs with the robbery suspects.
“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 officers confronting the boxed-in UPS truck faced a tough situation. The robbers appeared to be firing at them, endangering not only Ordonez but dozens of people in surrounding cars. He said the officers had 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. Had the truck stopped in an isolated area, officers could have pulled back and negotiated, but not in the middle of a crowded street, he said.