When Robert Giraldez saw a sweaty stranger moving from floor to floor in his North Bay Village condo building, he was suspicious. "He looked like he just ran a marathon," said Giraldez, who called police to report the unusual visitor at the Island Place condos at 1455 N. Treasure Dr.
But police said it was the unusual cargo they found in the man's red backpack that landed him in jail on Aug. 19.
Inside the backpack: Dozens of brass fire hose nozzles and fittings that police said Cornelius McCarthy cut from fire safety equipment. After his arrest, McCarthy confessed to pilfering more than 100 nozzles and fittings from several other buildings.
Police said McCarthy, 31, sold the parts for scrap at metal recycling facilities. He was charged with seven counts of grand theft and 12 counts of burglary. He was also charged with four counts of "obstructing fire extinguishment" -- a felony.
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"It's a cheap price to place on a human life," said Lt. Eddy Ballester, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade fire rescue department. Hoses installed in apartment and condominium buildings are essential to fighting blazes, Ballester said. Firefighters can't use damaged hoses, forcing them to carry in fire hoses from their trucks -- slowing down efforts to contain a blaze.
"The consequence of the theft could be a life or more property damage," Ballester said.
North Bay Village officers arrested McCarthy, who was then transferred to Miami Beach police custody. There, police said, McCarthy confessed to stealing more than 100 nozzles and fittings from at least seven condo buildings. Three are on Bay Drive: Stanton House Condo, 6900 Bay Dr.; Villa Bay Vista Condo, 2016 Bay Dr.; King Core Apartments, 900 Bay Drive.
They also said he confessed to stealing nozzles and fittings from Amethyst Condos, 5313 Collins Ave., and Harding Hall Condo, 8233 Harding Ave.
Police said McCarthy was also responsible for the theft of nozzles and fittings from another North Bay Village building: Caribbean Towers at 7545 E. Treasure Dr.
The equipment, which was taken over the last three months, was worth more than $30,000, police said.
McCarthy told officers he got about $1,000 by selling the stolen fixtures at metal recycling facilities along the Miami River. McCarthy did not specify to which recycling facilities he sold the stolen goods.
According to workers, two metal recycling facilities contacted by The Miami Herald, who asked not to be identified, brass fixtures and parts are worth about a dollar a pound.
Fire officials said the arrest should prompt residents of other buildings to check their safety equipment.
"We urge every condominium association to conduct an inspection to make sure these items are in place," Ballester said.
Roland Pandolfi, acting police chief for North Bay Village, said McCarthy's arrest was a "tangible result" of the department's community outreach. "We meet with as many homeowner associations as we can," Pandolfi said. "They are our eyes and ears."
After Giraldez called police, officers arrived at the building. Officer David Floyd said McCarthy ditched his backpack and tried to escape on his bicycle. Floyd stopped McCarthy, who fit Giraldez's description. Police found the backpack in some nearby bushes.
"If it wasn't for the resident that called, we would have never known," Floyd said. McCarthy, who was born in New York, lives in Miami Beach and as of last week was still in jail. Calls to the public defender's office, which is representing him, were not returned.
McCarthy was arrested in 1999 and charged with possession of burglary tools. Adjudication was withheld in that case. In 1999, he was charged with cocaine possession, but the charges were later dropped.
Island Place has filed an insurance claim for the cost of new hoses -- and is also taking steps to improve security. The building's condo board had cameras installed.