Suspect accused of fatally stabbing man, slashing woman’s throat in Keys

A man accused of fatally stabbing another man and slashing the throat of a woman last week in the Florida Keys has been arrested.

Rory Wilson, 49, was arrested early Wednesday on one count of murder and two counts each of armed robbery and robbery while wearing a mask or hood.

Monroe County Sheriff’s Office detectives said Wilson and another man barged into a Stock Island home Friday night, holding Paula Belmonte and another man at knifepoint.

Belmonte told detectives she was in bed shortly after 8 p.m. when the men entered her home and Wilson cut her throat with a knife.

Detectives said the intruders left and got into a fight on the stairs with her neighbor, Mathew Bonnett, who was stabbed multiple times. Bonnett, who had apparently come to help, died of his injuries, detectives said.

Belmonte, 53, said she recognized the voice of one of the intruders, leading detectives to Wilson.
Detectives believe the incident was connected to an earlier drug deal in which Belmonte had been involved.

Investigators said more arrests are expected to be forthcoming in connection with the attack.

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Man dies while trying to defend female neighbor from burglars on Stock Island

Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies were searching Saturday for two burglars and the relatives of a man who was killed while trying to protect his neighbor from them.

Deputy Jenna Moeller walked into a home on Stock Island near the island’s CVS pharmacy to find a man bleeding on a downstairs landing. When she went up the stairs, there was a terrified woman bleeding from her neck. 

“She had been robbed by two men wearing masks,” said Becky Herrin, the sheriff’s spokeswoman. “She described one suspect as a large, heavy-set black male; the second is described as a shorter, thin black male.”

The wounded woman told Moeller the dead man was a neighbor who came to her rescue. She said he tried to fight off the two burglars. Paramedics arrived and took the victims to the hospital, where doctors pronounced the man dead.

The case was assigned to Detective Matthew Pitcher. He was asking anyone with information about this crime to call Monroe County Crime Stoppers at 1-800-346-8477. 

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Employee steals $1,860 worth of lottery tickets from Marathon Kmart, deputies say

A former Kmart employee was arrested last week, a month after he allegedly stole $1,860 worth of lottery tickets from a Kmart store in Marathon.

Jojy Joseph, 40, was arrested Nov. 1 in Lexington, South Carolina, on charges of grand theft and dealing in stolen property. 

The incident was reported to authorities Oct. 4 by the store’s general manager.

Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies said the manager of the Kmart at 5561 Overseas Highway placed rolls of various Florida Lottery scratch-off tickets inside the secured “cash office” Sept. 7, at which time the store was already closed for Hurricane Irma.

The manager said the tickets didn’t fit in the safe so he placed them in a shopping cart and covered them with a blue tarp.

Deputies said the store was closed that day and remained closed through Sept. 16.

Authorities said the tickets remained in the secured officer during that time frame and the only people with access to the office were employees.

According to an arrest warrant, a construction company was in the office Sept. 24 to replace some drywall. 

Deputies said the cart was pushed over to an adjacent room that employees only had access to.

The manager told deputies that he was preparing to put the tickets back on the floor Oct. 4 when he noticed 113 various scratch-offs were missing.

The manager watched the surveillance video but didn’t see anyone taking the tickets.

However, authorities said the surveillance camera was “locked” and could not be viewed on Sept. 24 when the tickets were moved. 

Deputies said 20 winning tickets were cashed out at various stores in the Florida Keys.

The manager retrieved surveillance video from some of the stores and identified the suspect as Joseph, who was a Kmart employee.

Detectives said Joseph denied stealing the tickets, and said that he cashed lottery tickets on behalf of a Kmart customer who came into the store after the storm and needed the services of Western Union to get money.

He said Kmart’s Western Union service was down, as was their lottery service, so he offered to take some of her winning lottery tickets to the nearest available place, authorities said.

Deputies said Joseph disconnected his phone after speaking with the detective and did not return any future calls.

Authorities said Joseph now lives and works in South Carolina. 

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Fantasy Fest draws thousands to Key West

Things are weird, as usual, in Key West.

A pair of Vikings push a stroller full of stuffed chimps down Duval Street. A man with a ponytail swallows a steel sword. People dressed only in body paint and glitter wander and jiggle from bar to bar.

Fantasy Fest — one of Key West’s major tourist draws of the year — is in full swing. And that’s a relief for Florida Keys business owners trying to weather the economic storm that hit after Hurricane Irma battered the middle stretch of the tourism-dependent island chain.

The festivities have not disappointed Gary Gates from Buffalo, New York, who planned this “bucket list” trip 10 months ago with six friends.

“We were coming whether there was a hurricane or not,” the former NFL cameraman said. “I’ve never seen anything quite like this. To come down here and actually see people dressed in all kinds of costumes — or no costumes at all — was something that I needed to see.”

Gates flew into Key West and has not left during its annual 10-day festival of costume parties and parades, so he has not seen the devastation that still lingers more than a month since Hurricane Irma made landfall Sept. 10 about 20 miles north of the city.

The mostly residential middle stretch of the island chain took the brunt of the hurricane’s 130-mph winds. The area is still almost entirely brown, with debris piled alongside the highway and mangroves stripped bare. A stranded boat was christened the SS Irma with spray paint and offered “free” to drivers passing by.

But at opposite ends of the 120-mile-long island chain, tourist attractions in Key Largo and Key West escaped significant damage.

Dolphins Plus Bayside was ready for visitors three days after Irma’s landfall, but business has been down by half compared to last fall, said Mike Borguss, the third generation in his family to run the Key Largo attraction.

Some staff now live with friends or in temporary trailers parked outside their damaged homes, but the dolphins swim up to the water’s edge to check out new people toting cameras, and an adjacent hotel property is open for weddings and other events that had to be canceled elsewhere in the Keys because of Irma, said Art Cooper, Borguss’ cousin and curator at Dolphins Plus Bayside.

“The water’s pretty, the weather’s beautiful and we wish you were here,” Cooper said.

Scott Saunders, president and CEO of Fury Water Adventures, estimated tourism in Key West has been about a third of what it was at this time last fall, even though the city’s hotels, restaurants, cruise ship operations and beaches quickly reopened after the storm.

“There’s no reason not to be doing everything we did last year,” Saunders said before one of his fleet’s sunset cruises. “We should be having that tourist base down here, but we haven’t had any.”

Jodi Weinhofer, president of the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West, blames news coverage of Irma — but not the hurricane itself — for the downturn.

“There was over a $100 million worth of negative press,” Weinhofer said.

Tourism is a $2.7 billion industry in the Keys, supporting 54 percent of all jobs in the island chain, according to Monroe County’s Tourist Development Council.

Some jobs have been lost to Irma. Last week, Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key, about 35 miles northeast of Irma’s landfall, let go 260 workers amid ongoing repairs. The Islamorada Resort Company said its four properties in the Middle Keys will be closed for renovations over the next six months.

But up and down the island chain, bars, marinas and mom-and-pop establishments able to reopen have been hiring laid-off workers and keeping people from moving away, Daniel Samess, CEO of the Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce.

About 70 percent of roughly 35 hotels and motels in the Middle Keys are open, though those rooms mostly are filled by displaced residents and state and federal recovery workers. Officials plan to provide alternative housing and open those hotel rooms fully to tourists within the next two months, Samess said.

Final sweeps for debris in some parts of the Keys are scheduled Sunday, which also is the finale for Fantasy Fest. So far, the amount of broken tree branches and remnants of homes and belongings wrecked by Irma could fill over 133 Goodyear Blimps, according to Monroe County officials.

The cleanup will help create a good impression for visitors to Key West long before they arrive in the southernmost city in the continental U.S., said Key West Mayor Craig Cates.

“It’s a scenic cruise in your car coming down, and it’s very important that they get it cleaned up,” he said.

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Key West’s Southernmost Point marker restored after Hurricane Irma

If you’ve ever been to Key West, you’ve most likely taken a photo by the Southermost Point marker.

This concrete structure marks the southernmost point of the continental United States, and is one of the most photographed spots on Florida’s famous island.

The landmark’s paint job was defaced when Hurricane Irma came roaring through the Florida Keys in September, making this picture-perfect landmark not so camera ready.

Now, it has a fresh coat of paint and is ready for photos.

The official Florida Keys & Key West Facebook page posted that the famous structure is back open for business thanks to the help of local artist Danny Acosta. Acosta, with the help of artist Henry DelValle, was able to repaint the graphics after Public Works employees restuccoed and primed the surface.

Key West and the Florida Keys encourage all tourists to come and visit, in hopes of building their local infrastructure. 

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Corrections deputy accused of stealing prescription drugs from Key West police officer

A Monroe County corrections deputy was arrested Tuesday after stealing prescription pills from a family friend while she was babysitting for him, according to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.

The victim of the theft is Key West police Officer David Kouri. 

Kouri called the deputies in the morning and told them that Ashlie Hernandez, 27, had taken prescription medications while babysitting for him Monday night in his home, sheriff’s spokeswoman Becky Herrin said. 

Kouri said he knew how many pills were in the bottles because he had just filled the prescription and had not yet taken any of them.

He also told deputies that he counted the pills and found that some were missing, Herrin said. 

As part of the investigation, Kouri called Hernandez to discuss the theft, Herrin said. It was during that phone call that Hernandez told Kouri that her boyfriend had taken the drugs.

She then told Kouri that she had some of the drugs and they agreed to meet in the parking lot of the Key West Police Department so she could return the pills, Herrin said.

The pair met at about 4 p.m. and soon after Hernandez handed over a plastic bag with the pills inside, Herrin said. Detectives stopped her and she admitted to taking the pills, Herrin said.

Hernandez was arrested on charges of possession of a controlled substance without a prescription and theft of a controlled substance. 

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