MIAMI — Armed robbers hijacked a UPS truck after a robbery in Coral Gables, leading police cars on a harrowing chase up Interstate 75 that ended Thursday night in a dramatic and deadly shootout on a busy street in Miramar.
The FBI on Thursday night acknowledged that four people were killed: the two robbers, a UPS driver who was taken hostage and a bystander who was inside an idle car at the scene.
An image captured by the Miami Herald showed someone dead behind the wheel of a dark-colored sedan, its windows covered up by authorities. In one bystander video that surfaced Thursday night online, the sedan appeared to have just turned right at the intersection, about 350 feet away from the UPS truck.
FBI Special Agent in Charge George Piro, the head of the Miami field office, offered his condolences to the “innocent victims,” but declined to say whether bullets fired by the robbers or the police killed them.
“It would be inappropriate to discuss that,” Piro said at a Thursday night news conference near the shooting scene in Miramar. “We have just begun to process the crime scene. It’s going to be a very complicated crime scene.”
The head of Miami-Dade’s police union said 11 officers from the department opened fire, only after the robbers “started firing first” at the final crime scene.
“It’s unfortunate that the bystanders were killed, but the bad guys put all this in motion,” said Steadman Stahl, the president of the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the two innocent bystanders.”
The dramatic chase from Coral Gables to Miramar and the final firefight were broadcast live by TV news helicopters.
Footage showed a terrifying scene at the peak of rush hour, as the UPS truck slowed to a stop on Miramar Parkway near Flamingo Road in the midst of a cluster of stopped cars shortly after 5:30 p.m. News cameras zoomed in on the passenger side of the truck, and showed the small bursts of light and smoke indicating gunfire.
Several flashes followed as a man’s leg became visible from the door, followed by another man climbing over him, an arm over his head for protection amid the chaos.
Another view from the other side of the van showed cops rushing in. Soon, more than 20 officers were descending on men lying next to the vehicle. Large smears of blood were visible on the roadway as police, and soon paramedics, rushed in to help the wounded.
Because of the carjacking, the FBI is leading the investigation. As in all police shooting cases, state prosecutors will also review whether officers broke any laws in using deadly force.
Police say the incident began at 4:17 p.m. in Coral Gables, when at least two men tried robbing Regent Jewelers at 386 Miracle Mile. They were buzzed in because they were posing as U.S. postal workers, a law enforcement source said.
A law enforcement source told the Herald that a robber fired into the floor and the bullet ricocheted, hitting a female employee of the store in the forehead. She survived with a minor wound.
As the men were fleeing, gunfire broke out between the robbers and the owner of the store. At least one bullet flew toward Coral Gables City Hall across the street.
Billy Urquia, the Coral Gables city clerk, was in his private office when he heard a gunshot, then a second, and then the sound of a bullet piercing his window.
“The bullet ricocheted off the wall and landed on the floor,” Urquia said Thursday night. “The last one I heard was the one that came in.”
Urquia said he hurried outside his office to find a city security guard already on the phone with police. He estimated the bullet missed him by 2 or 3 feet. A photo taken afterward shows the bullet hole looming over Urquia’s monitor, just below the window blinds. “No glass hit me,” Urquia said.
The UPS truck was carjacked soon afterward, although authorities didn’t say exactly where.
“The individuals abducted the driver of the truck as well as the truck itself,” Coral Gables Chief Edward Hudak said.
Police officers soon found the UPS truck, which made its way up Florida’s Turnpike, then Okeechobee Road, then onto Interstate 75 into Broward County. The robbers shot at police during the chase, the FBI said.
The truck exited in Pembroke Pines and weaved its way through the streets — at one point breaking through a traffic arm into the Century Village community — all while followed by a long stream of police cars.
When the truck finally stopped in traffic gridlock, the robbers appeared to open fire on police. After the shooting, paramedics rushed to treat the injured men. At least one person was airlifted to a trauma center.
Law enforcement authorities in two counties were working Thursday night to figure out what happened. So was UPS, which is in the middle of the busy holiday gift-delivery season.
“We are deeply saddened to learn a UPS service provider was a victim of this senseless act of violence,” the company said in a statement. “We extend our condolences to the family and friends of our employee and the other innocent victims involved in this incident. We appreciate law enforcement’s service and will cooperate with the authorities as they continue the investigation.”
(Miami Herald staff writers Carli Teproff, Samantha J. Gross, Taylor Dolven and Aaron Leibowitz contributed to this report.)
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