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PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Man, 51, killed in apparent robbery

MANATEE — A man who was shot in the head during an ambush became Manatee County’s 17th homicide — the latest victim in a pace that may set a record for homicides in one year here.

Rolando Martinez-Rosales, 51, died in a St. Petersburg hospital after being shot at 3 a.m. Monday. He was attacked outside a home in the 4000 block of Eighth Street Court East.

With 17 homicides already this year, the number of killings has already far surpassed last year’s total of 12, and that pace has authorities concerned. In 2007, there were 22 homicides, the most since 1999, the earliest year homicides reports are available from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The violence this year has been steady, with no fewer than two in a month, including three in January, four in February, three in March and three in April.

“We were hoping it would slow down, but it hasn’t,” said David Bristow, spokesman for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. “If it keeps up, we will absolutely shatter the record.”

Bristow said it is extremely difficult to predict when a surge in homicides is going to occur. Most killings, he said, are crimes of passion that cannot be battled by patrol or prevention resources.

Manatee Community College criminologist Greg Arnold agreed, saying most homicides fall into two categories: crimes of passion, where a victim and attacker know each other; or “who dunnit” killings, which often involve drugs, gangs and robbery.

But Manatee has been plagued by both this year. Of the county’s 17 slayings, the majority have been domestic-related crimes, in which either the victim or the attacker knew the other. Robbery and drug activity have been factors in the other cases, with detectives believing robbery the possible motive in Martinez-Rosales’ killing.

Sheriff’s reports say Martinez-Rosales and two other men met two women at the Cuernavaca Bar and Grill, in the 800 block of 301 Boulevard, and all five got into the victim’s car to get pizza.

One of the women told Martinez-Rosales she needed to stop at her home to pick up a charger for her cell phone. Martinez-Rosales stopped at the home on Eighth Street, and both women got out of the car and went behind the home. At that point, five or six armed men ran up to the car and demanded the three men get out of the vehicle, the sheriff’s report states.

The two passengers got out of the car and had guns put to their heads. Martinez-Rosales got out and started running as the gunmen opened fire on him. During the shooting, the two passengers got back in the car, sped off and called 911. Deputies arrived at the scene and found Martinez-Rosales shot in the head.

Witnesses told deputies they saw a small black pickup with four to five men speed out of the area, the sheriff’s report said. The suspects are described as being in their teens or early 20s.

The type of attack that took Martinez-Rosales’ life is usually committed by “inexperienced, trigger-happy criminals,” Arnold said.

“Law enforcement fears these types the most because a career criminal for the most part doesn’t want this kind of attention,” Arnold said. “Amateurs are dangerous because they are more likely to panic and make an irrational decision.”

Bristow declined to say if the women knew the attackers, or if the men led Martinez-Rosales and his friends into an ambush. Detectives have interviewed the two other victims, but are still working to identify the women, Bristow said. No suspects have been identified.

Anyone with information on the killing is asked to call the sheriff’s office at 747-3011, or Crimestoppers at (866) 634-TIPS.

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