Miami-Dade County

After fatal shooting of panhandler in wheelchair, driver leads police on I-95 chase

A driver pulled up to a ramp onto Interstate 95, got out, pumped several bullets into a popular panhandler in a wheelchair, then sped away — leading police on a 20-minute chase on residential streets and Interstate 95 before he was captured.

Miami-Dade police took the shooter into custody before noon Tuesday, but did not release the victim’s name or give a motive for the killing, which took place at the southbound ramp from Northwest 95th Street to I-95.

“He got out of the car, approached him and shot at him several times,” said Detective Alvaro Zabaleta, a Miami-Dade police spokesman.

Police did not say how many times the panhandler was shot, though four bullet casings were marked off on the road surrounding the man’s wheelchair. They said the dead man was 58 years old.

Late Tuesday night police identified the alleged shooter as Rodney Louis, 27. Miami Herald news partner CBS4 identified the victim as Israel Perez.

Tuesday morning, the body remained in the wheelchair, slumped at the waist, his white T-shirt in view whenever a gust of wind rippled the yellow tarp covering his body.

Witnesses told police a man in a gray, four-door Chevrolet Malibu pulled up at 9:31 a.m., got out and fired several times at the panhandler. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue arrived and determined that the man had died.

Within a half hour, undercover officers spotted the Malibu on residential streets not far from the shooting, and gave chase. Television cameras relaying the live chase from helicopters showed police spotting the driver on Northeast Sixth Avenue at 55th Street.

The suspect’s Malibu sideswiped another vehicle at North Miami Avenue and 82nd Street, and kept going. The chase continued onto northbound I-95 and through the Golden Glades interchange.

The speeding Malibu crossed five lanes of traffic, eventually running over construction debris, then came to a halt after brushing against the dividing wall and nicking another vehicle near Miami Gardens Drive. The driver of that car injured his neck and was helped by paramedics.

With undercover officers pointing their weapons and yelling, the suspect got out through the passenger door, then dropped to his knees. He was handcuffed and taken into custody.

The arrest affidavit said Louis approached the victim from behind and shot him several times. Witnesses were able to identify the license plate of his car, and undercover cops set up a stakeout at his home at 9716 NW Sixth Ave.

When Louis showed up not long after the shooting, he disobeyed orders to surrender and fled. When police finally captured him, they found a .40-caliber Glock in his possession, that they believe is the murder weapon. The gun was stolen in Miami late last year, police said.

Louis was charged with first-degree murder and fleeing and eluding police, and taken to Turner Guilford Knight correctional facility.

The homicide investigation caused hardship for morning rush-hour commuters using Northwest 95th Street. The street was closed to traffic and pedestrians from Seventh Avenue, west of I-95, to the other side of the expressway. The exit ramp from I-95 to 95th Street was closed most of the morning.

The shooting took place next to a Carafe Oil gas station and across the street from a Mobil station. The exit ramp where the shooting took place is popular with panhandlers and vendors selling everything from bottled water to ball caps.

The victim, though not identified by police, was well known to those who lived in the area and those who use the exit ramp. Some who gathered at the shooting site said the panhandler would go about his business, not particularly bothering anyone. He spent most days wheeling his way up and down the street just off the sidewalk, smiling, holding out his cup and asking for loose change.

A woman working at the Mobil station across the street said most days the man visited the store and bought a drink and a pack of Clippers cigarettes.

Tuesday morning, he was a no-show.

“This is a senseless killing,” said Mike Davis, a pastor at the scene Tuesday. “This is a reflection of all of the community.”

Richard Washington couldn’t make sense of the shooting: “I just wonder what’s going on with the community.”

Like the pastor, Anita Johnson, who lives in the neighborhood, called the crime senseless.

“He was in a wheelchair,” she said. “Why would he shoot? He could have just hit the man, beat him up.”