Killings fall in Or­lando, up in Or­ange

Po­lice say it’s hard to pin­point rea­sons

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By David Har­ris

Malinda McNair-Rucker was in bed when the gun­shot shat­tered the slid­ing glass door lead­ing to her bed­room.

Two men, masked and dressed all in black, rushed past McNair-Rucker on July 6 at her apart­ment near Pine Hills and Sil­ver Star roads. As they did, her 34-year-old son Primes “PJ” Rucker III came out from his bed­room, pushed his 19-year-old nephew out of the way to­ward safety and yelled at the men to get out.

That’s when they shot

Rucker dead be­fore run­ning out of the apart­ment.

“It just hap­pened so fast,” McNair-Rucker said.

Rucker was one of 56 homi­cides this year in­ves­ti­gated by the Or­ange County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, an in­crease from 50 in 2018. Mean­while, the Or­lando Po­lice Depart­ment saw a big de­crease. It in­ves­ti­gated 26 homi­cides in 2019, com­pared with 43 the pre­vi­ous year, said Sgt. Joe Capece, who heads the homi­cide unit.

Else­where in Cen­tral Florida, homi­cides fell in Osce­ola County Sher­iff’s

Of­fice to seven, com­pared with 12 in 2018. The Semi­nole County Sher­iff’s Of­fice had five in 2019 and eight in 2018. The Lake County Sher­iff’s Of­fice in­ves­ti­gated three homi­cides, down from four.

Homi­cide statis­tics tend to ebb and flow from year to year, so in­ves­ti­ga­tors say it’s hard to pin­point why that hap­pens.

Or­ange County Sher­iff’s Of­fice homi­cide Sgt. Joe Covelli said the ma­jor­ity of the county’s homi­cides were drug-re­lated, while 10 re­sulted from do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

There was also no par­tic­u­lar area of the county that was hit harder by homi­cide than oth­ers, he said.

Spokeswoma­n Michelle Guido said homi­cides are hard to pre­dict, so the agency fo­cuses on curb­ing the ac­tiv­ity that leads to vi­o­lence, such as gangs and drugs.

“We’ll put ex­tra pa­trols in ar­eas with a gang beef,” Guido said.

Deputies also took about 1,400 guns off the street last year that were il­le­gally pos­sessed, she said.

Or­lando po­lice spokesman Sgt. David Baker high­lighted new ini­tia­tives un­der Chief Or­lando Rolón, who be­came the agency’s leader in De­cem­ber 2018, as a rea­son for the lower homi­cide num­ber.

In April, the depart­ment re­or­ga­nized its pa­trol unit to add more of­fi­cers to the streets dur­ing peak times: be­tween 7 a.m. and mid­night on week­days and 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. on week­ends.

Rolón also com­bined the drug and gang units into one, which Baker said has im­proved com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“What ex­act ef­fect [the ini­tia­tives] had is al­most un­quan­tifi­able, but it cer­tainly doesn’t hurt,” Baker said.

Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence leads to killings

Some of the re­gion’s high­est­pro­file killings in 2019 were linked to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

In Jan­uary, Grant Amato shot his par­ents Chad and Mar­garet Amato, and brother Cody Amato to death in­side their Chu­lu­ota home amid a dis­pute over the $200,000 of his fam­ily’s money he spent on a Bul­gar­ian call girl. Grant Amato, 30, was con­victed of mur­der and sen­tenced to life in prison.

The same month in Win­ter Park, po­lice say Danielle Redlick fa­tally stabbed her hus­band Michael Redlick at their home. Michael Redlick, 65, was a sports ex­ec­u­tive who had worked for the NBA’s Mem­phis Griz­zlies and was a beloved fac­ulty mem­ber at the Univer­sity of Cen­tral Florida. Danielle Redlick, 46, is fac­ing a first-de­gree mur­der charge and await­ing trial.

Then in Oc­to­ber, Ni­cole Mon­talvo dropped off her son at the St. Cloud house of her es­tranged hus­band fam­ily and was never heard from again.

Her dis­mem­bered body was found at the fam­ily’s and her brother-in-law’s prop­er­ties.

Her hus­band, Christo­pher Otero-Rivera, and his fa­ther, An­gel Rivera, face first-de­gree mur­der charges, although they have not been in­dicted. Otero-Rivera’s mother, Wanda Rivera, is ac­cused of tam­per­ing with ev­i­dence and brother Ni­cholas Rivera is con­sid­ered a per­son of in­ter­est.

The re­gion’s old­est homi­cide vic­tim also died at the hands of fam­ily. Lila Priebe, 83, was shot to death by her hus­band Bruce Priebe Aug. 8 in Osce­ola County. Lila Priebe was terminally ill.

Af­ter killing her, Bruce Priebe took his own life, in­ves­ti­ga­tors said.

Some killings still unsolved

In Or­lando, 18 of the 25 homi­cides have been cleared by ar­rest and Capece said he be­lieves a few more could be solved in the com­ing months.

“The Or­lando Po­lice depart­ment is blessed with hav­ing great homi­cide de­tec­tives who are tena­cious, dogged and stand up for those fam­ily mem­bers to get jus­tice for the vic­tims,” Capece said.

Capece said two other cases could be solved if any of the many wit­nesses to the killings came for­ward. In one, Cor­dar­ryl Atwell, 23, was killed at Wind­sor Cove Apart­ments on Mercy Drive on Oct. 12. Some­one in a ve­hi­cle shot at two groups of peo­ple and hit Atwell, Capece said.

The other case hap­pened dur­ing a Nov. 3 block party on Polk Street and Ben­son Av­enue that was at­tended by about 200 peo­ple. Sev­eral shots were fired, hit­ting three peo­ple, in­clud­ing 30-year-old Lil Kirk Jay Wil­lis Jr., who was killed.

“It was a street party so there were a lot of wit­nesses, but we haven’t got­ten any help,” Capece said.

Rucker’s death is one of the 27 cases Or­ange County de­tec­tives are still work­ing to solve. His mother, who suf­fers from rheuma­toid arthri­tis, tried to grab at her son’s killers as they ran away, but could not. She did not see their faces and they did not steal any­thing from the apart­ment.

She said she be­lieves her son was tar­geted, though she doesn’t know why, and his killers were fa­mil­iar with the lay­out of the apart­ment.

Covelli said deputies also be­lieve Rucker was tar­geted.

“When you have peo­ple go in to pretty much ex­e­cute the vic­tim while mak­ing no de­mands and no thefts, it’s pretty clear the vic­tim was tar­geted,” Covelli said.

His mother de­scribed him as a lov­ing fa­ther of a 5-year-old son who liked to make oth­ers laugh. He did elec­tri­cal work and was em­ployed in the restau­rant in­dus­try, but spent a lot of time car­ing for his mother, she said.

“He cooked for me, he would take me to doctor’s ap­point­ments, he would pick up my pre­scrip­tions,” she said. “There’s noth­ing in this world he wouldn’t do for me.”

McNair-Rucker still lives in the apart­ment where her son was killed be­cause she can­not af­ford to move. She said she be­lieves her son saved her nephew’s life and was com­ing to save her when he was shot.

“I wish he would have run the other way,” she said. “But they knew he would come for me.”

Any­one with in­for­ma­tion about any homi­cide case can call Crime­line at 407-423-8477.

COUR­TESY OF FAM­ILY

Primes “PJ” Rucker holds his son, who now is 5. Rucker, 34, was shot to death in July at his mother’s Pine Hills apart­ment.

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