Before he became a killer of women, Antonio Feliu was a cultivator of weed, a thief of electricity, and, apparently, an enigma to many.
When police gained access to his one-story, brown-and-beige house at 2020 SW 100th Ave. in West Dade, they found a fully operational growhouse, with the wiring rigged to pull in power while bypassing the meter. They hauled out 48 marijuana plants with a street value of $100,000.
For landlord Stuart Orgaz, it was the second stunning revelation about his tenant in a matter of hours. Earlier, he had learned that Feliu was the motorist who embarked on a bizarre Wednesday morning rampage, fatally shooting his ex-girlfriend and her adult daughter before lead-footing to Broward County, trailed by law officers on the ground and in the air. At Griffin Road and U.S. 27, he slammed into a Mercedes driven by 47-year-old Maritza Medina — causing yet another death — before taking his own life during a standoff with SWAT officers.
The events, which played out live on TV, mesmerized South Florida viewers.
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Orgaz, who found Feliu through an agency and never actually met him face to face, said the man responsible for the deaths of three innocent people seemed an ideal tenant, at least until Wednesday’s inexplicable events.
“He checked out,” Orgaz said. “His references were good. He paid his bills on time. We never had any problem with him.” Feliu, 48, portrayed himself as a concrete contractor.
Dios Dennis Ramirez, who lived in the efficiency adjacent to the mother and daughter, Vivian Martinez and Anabel Benitez, had multiple face-to-face dealings with Feliu and believed him to be “a magnificent person, a hard worker.”
“He helped me lay the concrete in my driveway,” Ramirez said. “He helped everyone around here. None of the neighbors [would have said] anything bad about him.”
Maria Espinoza, a woman who works as a housekeeper for a few of the neighbors on the block, said Feliu had told her employers that he had just bought the black Mercedes “and had got it for a good price.”
A day after their deaths, a slightly more detailed picture emerged of the two women, who, like Feliu, had come to South Florida in recent years from Cuba.
The mother worked as a caretaker, helping an elderly individual who lived nearby. She also helped neighbors with their aches and pains, Ramirez said, dispensing medicine and advice.
“Vivian’s father is sick with cancer back in Cuba,” he said. One of the last conversations she had with Ramirez was about how she planned to visit him.
The daughter, who had taken classes at Miami Dade College to enhance her employment prospects, worked as a morning-shift waitress at the Paraiso Restaurant and Cafeteria at 11238 SW 137th Ave. The manager confirmed she had been employed there but otherwise declined to be interviewed.
Ramirez said the mother and daughter had lived together in the efficiency at 12341 SW 190th St. until about six months ago, when Martinez moved out, apparently so she could live with Feliu.
About a week ago, she moved back with her daughter. Ramirez believes Martinez and Feliu had had a breakup. If they did, the split turned horribly violent around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Ramirez was awakened by four gunshots. He glanced out the window and spied a black Mercedes pulling away. He said didn’t recognize the vehicle, but he recognized Feliu behind the wheel. He called police.
When officers arrived at the tiny efficiency, they found the two women, both shot. Martinez, 51, was dead at the scene. Benitez, 28, would later be pronounced dead at Kendall Regional Hospital.
After a bulletin was issued to be on the lookout for the Mercedes, Miami-Dade Officer Jonathan Dweck spotted a vehicle that seemed to match the Mercedes’ description at Kendall Dive and Krome Avenue. When he tried to pull the Mercedes over, the driver refused.
Dweck followed the vehicle north on Krome as the crossover sped erratically, weaving in and out of traffic, knocking down street signs.
Dweck said he backed off the pursuit at Southwest Eighth Street, because a helicopter was in place overhead and could track the vehicle without endangering other motorists. He said he continued north but at a “safe speed in case [he] needed to render aid.”
After Dweck entered Broward County, he heard on the police radio there had been a crash.
When he got to the scene, he drove his cruiser into the median, parking it between Feliu’s car and the mangled black Mercedes sedan that had been driven by Medina, a Weston woman who had just dropped her daughter off at high school.
“It looked really bad,” he said.
Medina was sprawled on the ground by her car.
“I had to give this woman a chance to survive,” Dweck said.
He began CPR as Broward Sheriff’s Office Sgt. John Kelly drove up.
Another BSO deputy, John Rodriguez, used his car to shield Dweck from Feliu, who police believed was still armed and dangerous.
“We knew that fire-rescue couldn’t get there because it wasn’t safe,” Kelly said. “So we had to bring her to them.”
Together, Kelly and Dweck loaded Medina into Kelly’s car and headed east on Griffin. Dweck sat in the backseat and continued to administer CPR.
When they got Medina to the waiting paramedics it was too late.
By then, law officers had fired a canister into the window of Feliu’s Mercedes, shattering it, so they could see inside. They approached and discovered that Feliu was not holed up, but in fact dead, apparently from a self-administered gunshot.
Law officers could only speculate what set the man off on his two-county spree.
Said Detective Alvaro Zabaleta, Miami-Dade Police Department spokesman: “The only people who know the truth, unfortunately, are now dead.”
El Nuevo Herald staff writers Melissa Sanchez and Maria Perez contributed to this report.