MY VERO: Why have there been so many murders in Vero?

This isn’t supposed to happen here. A young nurse isn’t supposed to be strangled to death, allegedly by her cowardly on-again, off-again boyfriend, and have her lifeless body stuffed in the trunk of her car.

A starry-eyed young man, riding his bicycle from Maryland to Miami on a sentimental journey to propose to his girlfriend, isn’t supposed to get stabbed to death by a homeless madman in the parking lot of a McDonald’s restaurant.

A 71-year-old father figure isn’t supposed to be brutally bludgeoned to death with a hammer during a money-driven argument with the man he had raised since boyhood, then have his cracked skull and blood-soaked body dragged to a back bedroom to rot.

And a 42-year-old man isn’t supposed to be shot to death by his younger brother, no matter how much they might’ve been arguing and drinking on a Sunday morning.

None of this is supposed to happen in Vero Beach – or its surrounding neighborhoods in Indian River County – where so many of us nostalgically embrace our Mayberry-like way of life, take pride on our shared sense of community and allow ourselves to feel insulated from such harm on our seaside slice of heaven.

We’re supposed to be immune from the epidemic of violent crime and senseless killings that has infected too many other communities in this state, especially the counties that comprise the South Florida metropolis we’re trying to fend off.

Life here is supposed to be different, better, safer.

But is it?

Not lately.

The four movie-of-the-week murders mentioned above all have occurred within our county lines during the past five months.

“This is very uncommon here, and very unfortunate,” Sheriff Deryl Loar said. “You never want to have something like this happen at any time, in any year, regardless of the circumstances.

But this isn’t a trend.

“Most of these incidents are not typical homicides, where there’s a robbery or drugs are involved,” he added. “Most of these cases are event-specific. They’re hard to predict, which makes them hard to prevent.

“It’s not like people should be afraid to walk down the street or sleep with their windows open. Indian River is still a safe county.”

Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey says the same of his city.

Since Brian Simpson was shot to death during a burglary of his barrier island home in November 2011, only four murders have been committed in Currey’s jurisdiction – none in 2012, one in 2013 and three this year, not including the vehicular homicide on the 17th Street Bridge last month.

All three of Vero Beach’s non-traffic homicides in 2014, however, have come in the past four months.

“We have the same types of crimes as Miami and other bigger cities, but not the volume,” Currey said. “We’re not even close, particularly when you’re talking about homicides. But even one is too many.”

So how does Currey explain the recent rash of murders in our otherwise peaceful community?

“Two of the three were cases of domestic violence, which we see all too often,” Currey said, alluding to the murders of 26-year-old Diana Duve in June and 71-year-old Richard Lloyd earlier this month. “And, unfortunately, there wasn’t any way for us to prevent either one.

“In the Duve case, you had boyfriend-and-girlfriend relationship where, it turns out, the boyfriend had a previous history of domestic violence allegations,” he added. “In the other case, you had a younger male living in the same house – at times, anyway – with an older male he considered a stepfather.

“In those situations, there’s often very little law enforcement can do until it’s too late.”

Vero Beach police say Michael David Jones left the What-A-Tavern restaurant with Duve at about 1:15 a.m. on June 20 and they drove to his townhome, where the two once lived together.

At some point during the next several hours, he allegedly strangled her to death with his hands, put her body in the trunk of her car and drove to Melbourne, leaving the car in a parking lot.

Jones, 31, has been charged with first-degree murder.

As for the Lloyd murder: Currey said Donald Crabtree, 45, confessed to killing the older man, telling investigators that he “snapped” while the two men argued over money and hit him several times in the head with a hammer.

According to a VBPD news release, Crabtree then dragged Lloyd’s body to a back bedroom and stayed at the house for several days before “getting a ride to his mom’s house” in Okeechobee.

Crabtree, too, has been charged with first-degree murder.

The other homicide occurred at 9:30 p.m. Labor Day, when 28-year-old Kevin Adorno, of Connecticut, was fatally stabbed while standing outside the McDonald’s on the 1900 block of U.S. 1, talking on his cell phone to his girlfriend.

Adorno, a graphic designer who had pedaled from Maine to Maryland last year and was on his way from Maryland to Miami this year to complete a “bucket list” bike ride, had an engagement ring in his pocket.

His trip was cut short when a 59-year-old homeless man, Rene Herrera Cruz, stabbed him in the chest and arms.

Police say Cruz, who was charged with first-degree murder, told detectives he attacked Adorno because he believed the cyclist was on the phone arranging for someone to harm him.

“The tough part is that we talked to him the night before,” Currey said, referring to Cruz having called the police from the Burger King across the street from the McDonald’s crime scene because he was afraid someone was following him.

“An officer responded, but the individual did not meet the requirements of the Baker Act, and there was no reason to think he would do what he did.”

The Baker Act – officially, the Florida Mental Health Act of 1971 – allows for the involuntary institutionalization and examination of an individual if there is sufficient evidence that the person is mentally ill and poses a threat to himself or others.

“The individual hadn’t been here that long,” Currey said of Cruz. “It was just a very sad, very unfortunate coincidence.”

That seems to describe most of the homicides that have occurred here during this otherwise-inexplicable, five-month stretch.

“It’s terrible when you have a year like this, but this isn’t typical for this community,” Loar said. “We’ve had some cases that involved people with unscrupulous lifestyles, but we’ve also had some unusual incidents. Next year, we could go months without a homicide.”

Currey would welcome a full year without a homicide in Vero Beach, as was the case in 2012.

“There’s no cause for alarm,” he said, “none at all.”

That’s exactly what we’ve come to expect here. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Comments are closed.