A year later, 2 families await answers on deadly police shootout with truck hijackers

Charles Rabin, David Ovalle

A year after two innocent people were killed when police and robbers who hijacked a UPS truck engaged in a shootout on a crowded highway that played out live on South Florida’s television newscasts, the state’s top law enforcement agency reports it largely wrapped up a lengthy investigation into what went wrong during the chaotic incident.

Yet the Florida Department of Law Enforcement continues to refuse to share details of its findings. And for family members of the victims, the silence seems like stonewalling that only added to their grief and frustration.

“For us, it’s an anniversary every time we see a UPS truck,” said Roy Ordonez, whose brother Frank Ordonez was killed after his UPS truck was commandeered and he was taken hostage by two armed robbers. “They pretty much know what happened. There were 200 bullets. It doesn’t take a lot to figure out what happened.”

Troy Walker, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Special Agent in Charge, said his agency is waiting only on some final lab reports, before forwarding its findings to the Broward State Attorney’s Office. Then, a grand jury will be convened to determine if there is probable cause for an indictment.

Walker wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the case Friday, saying he’s limited in what he can say because Broward County, which is handling the case because the shootout took place in Miramar, convenes a grand jury before making a call to prosecute. Miami-Dade, where the incident started, does not.

“We appreciate the patience of our community,” he said. “In particular, the families impacted by this tragic event.”

Paula McMahon, spokeswoman for the Broward State Attorney, said her office is still awaiting FDLE’s findings. And even if it had them. it would likely be a while before any information became publicly available.

“The grand jury is not meeting due to the pandemic,” McMahon said.

Frank Ordonez, 27, and Rick Cutshaw, 70, lost their lives on Dec. 5, 2019 during a gun battle in which 19 officers from four law enforcement agencies and two suspected hijackers exchanged more than 200 rounds of gunfire. Ordonez was driving a UPS truck that was hijacked by a pair of suspected jewel thieves. Cutshaw, a 70-year-old union organizer was killed in the crossfire when his car became stuck in traffic during the shootout.

During the gun battle, police crept forward on the crowded thoroughfare, often ducking behind cars that were stuck in traffic with drivers inside to try and avoid the line of fire. A year after the shooting, it remains unclear who fired the fatal shots.

Michael Haggard, the Ordonez family attorney, called it “suspicious” that it was taking the FDLE so long to investigate the action of fellow law enforcement officers.

“It is very concerning and frustrating to the devastated families involved in this incident that the law enforcement investigation has not concluded after this long year,” he said.

Saturday marks the year anniversary of local television stations interrupting afternoon broadcasts to show law enforcement chasing the UPS truck from Coral Gables to a crowded intersection in Miramar. Lamar Alexander and Ronnie Hill had tried to rob an upper end jewelry store in Coral Gables. One of them pretended to be a postman and fired a bullet into the ground inside the store that ricocheted off an employee’s forehead. She lived.

When the attempted heist backfired, the suspected thieves took off in a U-Haul. But the store manager and an employee gave chase and fired their own guns at the truck, blowing out windows. Alexander and Hill eventually ditched the U-haul and hijacked Ordonez’s UPS delivery truck.

Police chased the truck north on the Turnpike and onto I-75 and finally the streets of Southwest Broward County until the truck became stuck in the traffic-choked intersection. Alexander and Hill were killed in the gun battle. It remains unclear if Frank Ordonez was killed during the gunfight, or before his truck came to a stop. Officers from Miami-Dade, Pembroke Pines, Miramar and the Florida Highway Patrol fired their weapons.

In October, Haggard blasted law enforcement for withholding ballistic tests that would show whose bullets killed Frank Ordonez and Cutshaw. He also filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the Ordonez and Cutshaw families and he produced a witness who claimed police fired the first shots

“It was absolutely pure recklessness. There was no tactical strategy. They tried to box in two kidnappers and used civilians as human shields. They went in guns blazing without any regard for human life,” Haggard said at the time.

At that same press conference, Ordonez’s mother Luz Apolimario said the awful feeling of her son’s death will stick with her throughout her life.

“I see the girls [her granddaughters] all the time,” she said. “It’s hard. The oldest one feels it and asks for her father.”