The parking lot behind IHOP at South Drive and Northwest 36th Street has been a favorite target of vehicle burglars for years because patrons can’t see their cars, many of which are loaded with valuable items and rented by tourists, and it’s a quick in-an-out for smash-and-grab thieves.
Several times police set up a bait car but never made a catch until they netted two men in the act at 10 a.m. on March 5. Police think the pair is responsible for countless car burglaries in the area.
To create the sting scenario, police backed a black SUV into a parking place away from the street. In plain view inside the vehicle were several empty laptop boxes, newspapers-stuffed shopping bags from expensive stores, and plugged-in cell phone chargers leading under the seats. The SUV was a prime target for thieves; however, the suspects chose another car.
As Detective Ray Tamargo watched from a concealed vantage point, two men arrived in a rented silver-colored Nissan and parked in the space between the bait car and a rental Mercedes SUV.
The driver got out and strolled through the parking lot, looking into several vehicles. Then the man briefly got back into the Nissan and exited with his right hand wrapped in towel and a punch in his left hand.
Within seconds the man used the punch to shatter a rear window of the Mercedes, reach inside, grab a black bag and jump back into the Nissan. The car started to pull away but was blocked by two unmarked police vehicles driven by Crime Suppression Team Officers Jason Hall and Gonzalo Garcia. The officers took down the suspects at gunpoint.
The driver was identified as Ronnie Jerome Hill, 36, of Miami and the passenger was Willie Weatherspoon, 39, also of Miami.
“Both have extensive criminal records,” Tamargo said. “They’re career criminals, especially Weatherspoon.”
The detective said the pair are definitely linked to many area vehicle burglaries and other crimes still being investigated.
“I think they work the airport area because there are a lot of tourists here,” said Tamargo. “I don’t think their M.O. is to follow tourists but there’s a possibility. They were having a field day over here but we stopped that.”
While the IHOP incident was being investigated, police got a call about a vehicle burglary in the Curtiss Parkway median parking lot of the Miami Springs Golf & Country Club. Someone had shattered the window of a van and stolen the purse of a Hialeah woman who had gone for a walk on the pedestrian path.
The case was quickly solved when her purse was found inside the vehicle of the men arrested at IHOP.