The 24-year-old motorist shot to death by Hialeah cops repeatedly rammed police cars and drove at officers who were on foot, the department said on Monday.
No firearm was found in the car driven by Lester Machado, who was shot to death in a hail of police bullets early Sunday after a series of high-speed car chases through the streets of East Hialeah.
“We don’t know why the heck he wouldn’t stop,” department spokesman Carl Zogby said Monday.
By Monday, two blue balloons, white flowers, a cross and several candles marked the spot where Machado’s bullet-riddled car had come to a rest early Sunday morning. Nearby, at least a dozen bullets pierced a black metal fence surrounding Fountain Of Life Apostolic Church, 3505 NW 79th Ave. Glass and car parts littered the street and median.
Machado’s girlfriend of two years, Lizbed Padron, said Monday night that she is “devastated” by what happened. She said hours before her boyfriend was killed he had taken her to Hooters and they had margaritas, chicken, shrimp and fries.
“He was telling me how much he loved me,” she said. “I don’t understand how this could have happened.”
Upset relatives told reporters that Machado did not deserve to die such a violent death.
“I never thought something like this could happen in America,” Machado’s cousin Orlando Gavara told Miami Herald news partner CBS4. “He’s not a delinquent.”
Machado, who was a manager at a Hialeah AutoZone, did not have an extensive criminal history, but was facing a felony trial after an August arrest on charges of buying marijuana.
According to the arrest report, Miami-Dade detectives monitoring a gas station saw Machado buy marijuana from another suspect at a Shell gas station in West Miami-Dade. He was pulled over moments later on the Palmetto Expressway, and admitted to buying the drugs, according to police.
On Sunday, a Hialeah police officer tried pulling him over for a traffic violation around 4 a.m. on LeJeune Road near 25th Street. Machado’s white Honda Civic sped off, and eventually stopped. Officers said they got out of their patrol cars and approached on foot, then Machado reversed the car, nearly hitting them, according to Zogby.
Moments later, near Hialeah Hospital, he stopped and again drove toward officers, police said. At least one fired his weapon at the car, although it’s unclear if Machado was struck at that moment. “At some point, he’s ramming police vehicles,” Zogby said.
Finally, Machado’s car sideswiped a police car and crashed to a stop on Northwest 79th Street at 35th Avenue, just outside the city limits. That’s when officers fired a volley of bullets, killing Machado.
“The initial statements were that they were in fear for their lives,” Zogby said. “He was using his car as a deadly weapon. They were in fear for the public’s safety.”
An initial report, published Sunday on miamiherald.com, incorrectly suggested that the driver had engaged in a shootout with police. Ultimately, Miami-Dade prosecutors will have to decide whether officers broke the law in using deadly force against Machado. Under Florida’s “fleeing felon” law, police officers can legally shoot someone who is eluding cops if they are believed to have committed a felony.
The officers who opened fire were: Jose Abel, Adrian Vidal, Daniel Garcia, Esteban Holland, Felix Elias and Daniel Gato.
Now the family is focused on getting “justice for Lester,” Padron said.
“What was the point of shooting him that many times?” she asked. “There is nothing he could’ve done to deserve that.”
It was the second Hialeah police shooting in a matter of hours.
Later on Sunday afternoon, a Hialeah police officer shot at a mentally disturbed man armed with a machete who had sliced his own neck. The man was hospitalized for his neck injuries, but it was unclear if he was struck by the police bullet. He survived.
What prompted the officer to fire at the man in the area of West Fifth Avenue and 16th Street remains unknown, Zogby said.