Trying to rob a cashless storage facility after leaving prison = priceless

A felon from Connecticut was shot by Miami-Dade police after he tried to run over a detective, police said.

Posted on Wed, May. 14, 2008

BY DAVID OVALLE dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

Wielding a knife, a burly 21-year-old named Reggie Ponce De Leon burst into a West Miami-Dade storage company Tuesday morning and demanded cash, police said.

But the office only accepts checks and credit cards.

So De Leon carjacked a Toyota RAV4 and tried evading police by accelerating the wrong way down Southwest 87th Avenue into a medical plaza parking lot, officers said.

The lot led to a dead end. Not ready to surrender, he rammed a detective car, grabbed the steering wheel and gunned the engine at Miami-Dade Detective Jose Aragu. A hail of police bullets stopped his escape.

''He tried to kill the cop,'' said police union attorney Blanca Greenwood. ``It was another blatant attack on a law enforcement officer just trying to do his job.''

De Leon's spree ended in a hospital bed, then police custody. His wounds were ''non-life threatening,'' said Miami-Dade police spokesman Alvaro Zabaleta.

He was slated to be booked Tuesday night into a Miami-Dade jail on a slew of charges.

De Leon had just arrived in Miami-Dade on a Greyhound bus from state prison in Connecticut. In September 2006, police in New Haven said Ponce De Leon nearly ran over two officers after they tried questioning him after a fight at a nightspot.

He was arrested, according to the New Haven Register, after his car got stuck between two parked rail cars.

He had been paroled on a charge of aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer.

EARLY-HOURS CRIME

The Miami-Dade episode started a little after 8 a.m. at Midway Self Storage, 8105 NW Second St.

De Leon walked into the office, pulled a knife on employee Gerardo Vega and demanded money, said owner Lizbeth Mesa. Vega replied the storage business only deals with checks and credit cards.

''I guess he was desperate,'' Mesa said. ``The only thing I can think is at that time, a lot of the other businesses around there are closed still.''

When the intruder came around the counter, Vega ran to the back of the business to warn a mother-daughter cleaning crew.

The daughter dashed into a restroom. She called 911.

The robber bolted. Just then, Robert Ruiz, a general contractor who rents an office at the building, pulled up in his black Toyota RAV4. The robber shoved Ruiz into the RAV4. Ruiz threw the keys into the bushes.

The robber snatched them from the ground, jumped into the RAV4 and sped off. Ruiz escaped.

Officers quickly issued a be-on-the-lookout bulletin for the Toyota. Detectives with the Midwest district spotted it heading south on Southwest 87th Street.

The driver veered into oncoming traffic. He zoomed into the ground-level enclosed lot of the Eighth Street Medical Plaza, home to Humana Health Care and several doctors.

Following was Detective Aragu, driving an unmarked white Dodge Intrepid. The RAV4 backed into the Intrepid, buckling the sedan's hood.

Investigators believe that as Ruiz was trying to turn the RAV4 around, Aragu jumped out and took cover behind a concrete pillar. He ordered the man out.

The robber lifted his arms, appearing as though he might surrender.

GUNNED THE CAR

But as the detective walked toward the RAV4, De Leon's hands clutched the steering wheel and the engine gunned. Aragu, fearing for his life, squeezed off six rounds, police said.

The volley pierced the windshield, blowing out the driver's side window. The glass burst outward. Blood splashed the center console and seat belt.

Miami-Dade paramedics rushed in to work on De Leon.

They cut his jeans and shirt off. His white-and-black Nike Jordan sneakers remained on the pavement. So did a green cigarette lighter and an original flavored ChapStick.

Miami Herald staff writer Tim Chapman contributed to this report.