Robber fatally shot by Miami jeweler making rounds in Boca
By MICHAEL LaFORGIA and KEVIN DEUTSCH
Palm Beach Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
BOCA RATON After Leon Rozio was robbed, he vowed never to let it happen again.
Three or four years ago, the 64-year-old owner of Miami-based H&L Wholesale Jewelry Inc. lost about $300,000 in gold and jewelry in a Miami Lakes holdup, said his half-brother, Fernando Mirabal.
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Soon afterward, Rozio, a prominent member of Miami's Cuban-American community, started bringing a gun on his sales runs, which took him and his pricey jewelry to shops across South Florida.
About 12:45 p.m. Wednesday, not long after Rozio parked his red Ford Explorer outside St. Moritz Jewelers at 21310 St. Andrews Blvd., four men screamed up behind him in a silver car, boxing him in. They surrounded the Explorer, smashing windows and snatching a duffel bag with jewelry inside, witnesses said.
Rozio retrieved his pistol and started firing. He emptied three or four rounds into the robbers' Silver Saturn Vue, which was outfitted with a Kansas license plate obscuring a Florida tag, aiming for the tires and the driver's side window.
One of the robbers was struck and killed.
"I haven't done anything like this in my life," said Rozio, whose voice was still unsteady hours after he'd killed the man. "I feel very bad. I want to pray. In all my life, I never thought I would hurt anybody."
Rozio, who's been selling jewelry for 30 years, said the robbers took everything he owned, totaling more than $100,000 in jewelry. He didn't know whether his business would survive.
Hours after the shooting, he couldn't get the young robber out of his head. "It's like you blink and everything happens, and you hope that what you're going through is not true. You hope that soon you're going to wake up. Nothing prepares you for this."
Witnesses said the scene in the suburban shopping center was like something out of a western movie.
"He opened up like I have never seen," said Greg Sanderson, manager of a nearby Omaha Steaks shop, who watched the shooting through the store's plate-glass windows. "I couldn't believe it. It sounded like the Wild West out there."
As Rozio fired, the driver, a young man dressed head to foot in black and wearing a black hood, slammed the car into reverse as the other three men scattered, speeding northbound in the parking lot before lurching to a stop beside a nearby Wendy's restaurant.
One of the men staggered from the car and ran west through the parking lot toward St. Andrews Boulevard, a witness said.
Paramedics found the wounded robber bleeding in the car, said Boca Raton Fire Rescue spokesman Frank Correggio. The man was taken to Delray Medical Center, where he died soon afterward, officials said.
The other three men escaped in a silver van, triggering a manhunt. It wasn't clear whether any of them were wounded.
As the afternoon wore on, investigators and crime scene technicians pored over the parking lot. The silver Saturn - its back left tire deflated, its driver door ajar, a smear of blood on the left rear quarter panel - sat in the parking lot, the dash bell still chiming.
Rozio's attorney, Bill Matthewman, said his client will not face charges.
Rozio was a reservist in the U.S. Army for six years, Matthewman said, and is a "wonderful, hard-working, sweet guy who was defending himself."
Rozio's daughter, Miriam Nylander, said her father was robbed years ago in Coral Gables and more recently in Miami Lakes.
She said she understood why her father - who came to South Florida from Cuba when he was 16 - would struggle with the thought that he had killed a man.
"He's the kind of guy who cries when he has to put a dog down," Nylander said by telephone from Hawaii.
Records show Rozio held a concealed weapons permit in 2006, the last year for which data is available. Matthewman said he still holds that permit.
Hours after the shooting, witnesses still were shaken at what they had seen.
"It's a risky business," said Sherry Frost, manager of St. Moritz Jewelers. "I'm so sick about this."
Anyone with information can call Detective Juan Carlos Pijuan at (561) 416-3331.
Recent jewelry store robberies
March: Four armed men tied up clerks and stole $80,000 worth of valuables from Diana Jewelry in the Hendry Plaza on Dixie Highway south of Stuart.
February: A man snatched gold necklaces valued at $35,000 from a display at Passions Jewelry in Stuart, while a female accomplice distracted the clerk.
June 2006: Four men wearing masks and gloves stormed into Value Pawn & Jewelry Store at 4606 Australian Ave. in Mangonia Park. The men smashed display cases, took employees' personal belongings and fled in a Jeep Cherokee that had been stolen the night before.
December 2005: Former major-league pitcher Jeff Reardon robbed a Hamilton Jewelers in Palm Beach Gardens with a threatening note, then blamed the incident on antidepressant medications as he surrendered to a security guard.
- Staff researcher Melanie Mena