Rookie Florida Highway Patrol officer Alvin Kohler, 23, of Troop K in Miami, was shot and killed by a 15-year-old Hialeah boy when he stopped to investigate a fire in the killer's Camaro alongside the Florida Turnpike Homestead Extension on Sept. 19, 1978. The 15-year-old also shot and killed a tow-truck driver in the same incident. Kohler was the 24th state trooper to be killed in the line of duty since the organization was formed in 1939 and the first trooper ever killed on the Florida Turnpike.
The events that led to the fatal tragedy began when Lester Rene Enriquez, 15, "skipped school" at Miami Christian School on that fatal Tuesday, Sept. 19, 1978. Lester's father, Rene, was notified by the school principal that his son had skipped classes that day. The father placed his son on a 30-day restriction but, at 6:15PM, did allow Lester and his 13-year-old neighbor friend to drive to the Miami International Hospital at the "cloverleaf" (I-95 and Palmetto Expressway interchange) to visit Lester's mother, a patient at the hospital.
Upon arrival at the hospital Lester and his 13-year-old friend, Jose Sainz, a student at Hialeah Jr. High, spent 3-4 minutes visiting Lester's mother. Lester then asked his father for some money to go to the cafeteria to eat. The father gave the son $2 but Lester then told Sainz he had decided to run away to Key West for a few days and the two left the hospital in Mr. Enriquez's blue 1977 Camaro with white stripes.
The father waited over an hour for his son to return and then searched the hospital for the two boys when they did not return. When he discovered his Camaro missing from the parking lot, the elder Enriquez realized his son had "skipped" and called a friend to pick him up at the hospital. When the father returned to his home he found that his son had "packed up" and taken two of his guns, a Colt Python .357 Magnum and a Mini M-14 rifle. He then called a friend on the Hialeah police force and told him to be on the lookout for his Camaro and his son (but no formal complaint was filed).
After leaving the hospital, Lester and Sainz first stopped by Lester's girlfriend's house and told her they were going to Key West. They then stopped by a service station in Hialeah to repair the Camaro (a loose fan belt) and then went by Lester's house. Lester packed up his clothes and then went into his father's bedroom and took the pistol, the rifle, and "three cases of bullets". The two then took off for Key West sometime before 8:00PM.
Enroute to Key West, the Camaro developed engine problems again and Lester pulled the car over to the shoulder of the Florida Turnpike near S.W. 168th St. (Richmond Drive). When the two boys got out they opened the hood and discovered that the motor was on fire. Lester took off his shirt and used it to try to put the fire out but failed. A passerby stopped to help the boys and used his fire extinguisher to put out the fire. The passerby also used his C.B. radio to tell the police of the problem.
By this time a second passerby had stopped and the four waited for a few minutes until three Highway patrol cars arrived almost simultaneously. Trooper Donald Jones and his observer, "Alcohol Technician" Clarence Balanky, remained with the stranded motorists until the arrival of Trooper Kohler. They then left the scene.
Trooper Alvin Kohler parked his patrol car behind the Camaro. The second patrol car parked in front of the Camaro while the third parked on the median. The two passersby then left. Realizing the problem needed the attention of only one trooper, the other two troopers left leaving Kohler alone with the two boys.
(The description below of the shooting is taken from separate statements of Lester and Sainz to police after they were arrested and before they talked with attorneys. Since the statements are consistent---and highly incriminating---they are likely to be quite accurate.)
Trooper Kohler asked Lester for his driver's license and registration and Lester complied. Kohler called in Enriquez' driver license number. Both boys, when questioned later, conceded that Trooper Kohler was courteous and polite and not abusive in any way. But Kohler did inform Lester that he would be ticketed for driving with a restricted license and that he had called (at 7:58PM) for a tow truck to remove the Camaro from the Turnpike.
A few minutes later a red tow-truck arrived and parked in front of the Camaro. The driver, Ivan Carrandi, 46, of Hialeah, who worked out of the Plaza Texaco at the Snapper Creek Service Plaza, examined the Camaro and confirmed that it was disabled and would have to be towed. When asked, he told Lester that it would cost approximately $20 to tow the Camaro to the nearest service plaza. The two boys did not have near that much money between them.
At 8:25PM Kohler requested a license check and found that Enriquez was in violation of his license restriction. He then walked to the rear of the patrol car and began to write a ticket. At this point Lester and Sainz were sitting on the guardrail "located approximately at the center of the Camaro." Lester told Sainz that he "was going to shoot them both."
Lester explained to Sainz that he thought the police officer would take him to jail and that if he shot the officer he would have to shoot the tow-truck operator to eliminate the witness. Lester seemed oblivious to the fact that he and Sainz had already been "identified" by two other troopers and two passersby at the scene.
Later in two statements to the police Lester said, when asked why he shot the trooper, that he "was nervous about my car burning up"; that he was "upset over the fact that he was getting a ticket"; and that he didn't want to "go back home and face additional punishment from his father for taking the car without his father's permission." He said that he was not under the influence of drugs and had no mental disabilities. Lester also told police that he took the guns and ammunition on the trip to Key West "for his own self protection, because he feared someone might try to break into his car or harm him".
Lester and Sainz then walked to the trunk of the Camaro. Lester opened the trunk of the car and removed several rags, ostensibly to wipe off the fire extinguisher foam from the hood of the Camaro. But he also removed the .357 magnum from inside of a gun case and placed it inside the rag. At this point Sainz tried to talk Lester out of his plan to shoot the trooper and the tow-truck driver. Sainz (later claimed to have) told Lester "not to be stupid; not to shoot them because, what's a ticket? Going to jail for a couple of days or something, and if he kills them, it would be worse and all that." The "common sense" talk of Sainz evidently had no effect on Lester. Lester handed a rag to Sainz and closed the trunk. The two boys then proceeded to the front of the Camaro and both began to wipe off the foam. While cleaning the Camaro, Lester had the gun wrapped inside the rags. At this point the tow-truck operator was sitting on the guardrail near the patrol car while Kohler was at the rear of the patrol car using the trunk as a desk as he wrote the ticket. He had Lester's driver's license in his right hand and a pen in his left hand (he was left-handed). Lester's plan was to wait until the trooper came to him to shoot him but Kohler called Lester to come to him to sign the citation.
(It should be noted at this point that it was now "very dark" according to Sainz.) Lester took the gun inside the rag and walked toward the trooper. As he approached the trooper he raised the gun, covered by the rag, and fired one shot from near point-blank range. Clearly, Kohler was "ambushed" and "never knew what hit him". The bullet entered Kohler's right cheek and exited his left ear. He fell to the ground still gripping the driver's license in one hand and the pen in the other hand.
Kohler was wearing the mandatory bulletproof vest but was shot in the head. FHP had required troopers to wear the vests a year earlier after the 1977 killing of trooper Bradley Glascock in Miami. It is not known whether Lester shot the trooper in the head thinking that he may have been wearing a bulletproof vest. Sainz said that as Lester approached the trooper with the gun inside of the rag the tow-truck driver, who was still sitting on the guardrail, became suspicious and scared and got up and began walking toward his tow-truck. After Lester fired at the trooper, Carrandi began to run. Lester, then turned toward Carrandi, and from 20 feet away fired one shot. Carrandi, hit in the right thigh, fell to the ground. Lester then walked up to Carrandi---in what can only be called an "execution"---and fired two more shots into his back as he lay face down on the shoulder of the road.
Sainz told police that he noticed that Carrandi became suspicious before Lester fired at the trooper and watched him closely since his friend was preoccupied with the trooper. Sainz said that "I got up close to him and was ready to push him over the railing because I thought he was going to do something to Lester." Carrandi first moved toward Lester and then turned and began to walk fast toward the tow-truck. Sainz was about to follow Carrandi when he heard the first shot, then the second, and saw Carrandi fall. Sainz ran toward the Camaro but turned when he heard two more shots and saw Lester standing over the body of Carrandi with the "smoking gun" in hand.
Lester then ran to the Camaro, removed two boxes of ammunition, and told Sainz to get into the tow-truck. Lester got into the tow-truck on the driver's side, started it, and the two proceeded south on the Turnpike. Lester took the gun from his waistband and gave it to Sainz telling him to take out the shells and reload the gun. Sainz took the gun, removed the four empty casings and threw them out the window, and reloaded the gun with four live rounds. Sainz then handed the gun back to Lester who again placed it inside his waistband.
The boys soon came to the first toll plaza and went through the "change" line giving the toll taker a dollar bill. Toll taker Priscilla Stodard became suspicious as she recognized the tow truck and knew that the operators normally used a credit card for their frequent trips through the toll station. She paid particular attention to the driver and passenger, noting their youth.
Mark Barrow, 21, and Frank Esteves, 22, of Miami were first on the scene after the shooting. Barrow, a private security officer said that as they traveled south past the flashing blue lights of the trooper's car he noticed a man (Carrandi) lying down in front of the trooper's car with red stains on his chest. He told Esteves, who was driving, to turn around and go back. Esteves made a U-turn across the median and went northbound over the little bridge and parked behind the trooper's car.
The two pulled up behind the trooper's car and saw a second person (Kohler) lying on his back at the rear of the patrol car. Barrow rushed to Kohler's aid while Esteves stood to the rear to make sure there was no one else (e.g., the killer) in the area. The two then "tried to undo his vest and opened his shirt, unloosened his belt and proceeded to give first aid." Kohler was still conscious and tried to talk to Barrow who reported that he "was incoherent". Barrow also said Kohler was "gurgling blood."
Barrow then went to the patrol car and got on the radio, reported (at 8:37PM) that a trooper and a second person had been shot and gave the location. His exact words were: "Trooper down! Trooper down! Been shot! Two men shot! One is dead! One-half mile north of Quail Roost Road on the pike. Need backup! Trooper full of holes!" (Miami News, 9201978)
The dispatcher, Dave West, called fire rescue and alerted other troopers and police in the area.
Barrow then rejoined Esteves at the side of the trooper. By this time other people had stopped and Barrow told them to check out the other injured person. Esteves went to help Carrandi, who was still conscious. Carrandi reported that the man who shot him and the trooper had fled south in his tow-truck and was able to describe the two boys and the tow-truck. This information was relayed to the police and aided in the capture of the fugitives.
Also, the ticket-book found by troopers lying on the ground had a citation written to Lester Enriquez and Trooper Donald Jones was able to describe the two boys he had seen earlier at the scene. Obviously, Enriquez' plan to "eliminate the witness" was not well thought out.
Barrow rode with Trooper Kohler in the rescue unit to Miami-Dade General Hospital, holding the IV. Barrow later became a police officer in Hialeah Gardens and then in South Miami. Metro paramedics found Kohler face up on the shoulder of the road. He had no vital signs. Carrandi, conscious and still able to talk, lay about 25 feet away. The medics administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation, advanced cardio life support and drugs in a futile attempt to save the wounded men. Kohler was pronounced dead at 9:16PM....(on arrival at the hospital)..... Carrandi's heart stopped in the ambulance rushing him to Miami-Dade General Hospital, just minutes away. "We gave it 110 per cent," said Metro Fire Rescue Lt. Bruce Meyer. "As far as the trooper was concerned, it was beyond the realm of what we could do." "The other man was alive and talking when we arrived, but went downhill." A hospital doctor pronounced Carrandi dead at 9:35PM." (Miami Herald, 9201978) The Medical Examiner later listed Kohler's cause of death as a gunshot wound to the head, chest and abdomen.
While Metro paramedics were trying to save the victims, Florida City police Capt. John Folden and off-duty officer Jim Stockie heard the radio alert for the fleeing red tow-truck and rushed to U.S. I in a blue pick-up. They spotted the red tow-truck after it left the Turnpike (which ends becoming U.S. 1) at S.W. 344th Street just before the turn to Card Sound Road. Another car driven by Trooper G.B. "Buck" Buchanan had also spotted the tow truck and the two sets of officers forced the tow truck to stop. (Trooper Buchanan died of cancer in 1990 and U.S. 1 at S.W. 344 St. was renamed Trooper Buck Buchanan Memorial Highway in honor of his service to the South Dade community.)
The officers told the two boys to get out of the truck with their hands up. Lester removed the gun (used to kill Kohler and Carrandi) from his waistband and threw it on top of the hood of the tow truck. The boys then offered no resistance and surrendered. Their 12-minute flight from justice had ended. They were taken into custody and transported in separate cars to Metro-Dade Police Substation No. 4. Police found another gun in the cab of the truck. Both boys gave complete statements to the police that were consistent and incriminating (thus likely true).
The above narrative is based largely on their account of the double-murder since Kohler and Carrandi, the only other witnesses, died. Both statements were taken in the presence of parents (but without attorneys present) and were completed by 4:00AM on Wednesday, Sept. 20 (7 hours after the murders). The two juveniles were then transported to the Dade County Youth Hall.
Enriquez later claimed that he had been beaten while in police custody and that he had been treated for facial abrasions and x-rayed for possible internal injuries at Jackson Memorial Hospital. An editorial in the Miami News castigated the police for the alleged beating and was followed by several angry letters-to-the-editor which criticized the News for the editorial.