April 19, 2013

After string of burglaries, lounge manager plots thieves’ capture

A restaurant manager tried to take matters into her own hands after the business was hit by a string of burglaries.

It started with a burglary on Feb. 6, then another on Feb. 19.

By March 4, a third incident had occurred at Spinnakers Lounge in North Miami Beach — only this time, the unknown suspect, or suspects, weren’t able to pry open the kitchen door to make entry.

That was the last straw for Bernadette Gonzales, the manager of the restaurant.

The next day, on March 5, she stuck around after closing in hopes of catching anyone who tried to break in.

By the time the sun came up, John William Hatfield, 20, and Nelson Nieves, 33, had been arrested and were later charged with burglary of a structure.

At about 3 a.m., Gonzales heard the noises of people trying to work their way inside.

She grabbed her phone and hid in a storage room, where she called 911.

“They’re trying to break in right now,” Gonzales is heard telling a 911 dispatcher. “I’m hiding, I’m hiding.”

She remained on the phone with the dispatcher for a little more than six minutes, although during moments of the call Gonzales was too scared to speak out of fear of being caught.

“The only thing I regret is not having a gun with me,” said Gonzales during a phone interview. “In my mind, they were never going to break in. They were going to get caught before they came in.”

About halfway through the conversation, the dispatcher told Gonzales that officers had arrived at the lounge, but she was told to remain in her hiding spot until the area was secured.

Meanwhile, an officer said she saw two men wearing hooded sweatshirts — one carrying a crowbar — exiting the front door, according to a media report.

Hatfield and Nieves were immediately arrested.

A police report said the pair used a crowbar to break into a locked metal door leading into the kitchen area.

Found with the alleged loot were two flashlights and a two-way radio next to the front door, according to the report.

Nieves was also found with a screwdriver in his pocket.

Gonzales said she recognized Nieves from conversations they’d had when he worked in the same shopping plaza as the restaurant, and said that Hatfield had been in the lounge hours before the incident.

Although this incident ended with arrests, Gonzales’ actions are not ones that the department would recommend that others copy, according to Thomas A. Carney, director of police services.

"There are too many things that could go wrong," he said. “She could have been hurt when she was hiding, or her phone could have stopped working."

He said that after a burglary is committed, police typically work with businesses to find ways to beef up security.

Gonzales said that after the March 5 incident, the restaurant upgraded its security systems.

“I hope I never have to do anything like that again,” Gonzales said.

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