He told police he was afraid of being arrested. Two days later he was found dead in river

About 48 hours before the body of Ricardo Velazquez Rodriguez was found floating in the Manatee River near Robinson Preserve, he had walked into the Palmetto Police Department.

Police officers there were the last ones known to see Velazquez Rodriguez alive, at about 1 p.m. Friday.

Velazquez Rodriguez, 59, was reported missing about five hours later, at 6 p.m He was found dead by a boater at 1:15 p.m. Sunday.

A boater found the body near the Blenker Marina at 2504 88th St. Court NW.

The family had indicated on Facebook that Velazquez Rodriguez was last seen at the Palmetto Police Department. Chief Scott Tyler confirmed that on Wednesday.

According to Tyler, Velazquez Rodriguez’s behavior was strange while at the police station and an officer considered taking him into custody under the Baker Act, but he did not meet the criteria.

“He came in earlier that day before he was reported missing,” Tyler said. “He asked to speak to an officer and he said he was concerned that he was going to be arrested or had a warrant. He said he had just come down from Pennsylvania and thought someone had stole a title, but that he found it and destroyed it and was concerned he destroyed an official document.”

Velazquez Rodriguez was arrested in 2012 on charges of running a cock fighting ring where the roosters had to be euthanized either due to injuries or were just too trained to fight. He has not been in any trouble since.

Tyler said the officer thought his concerns about being arrested were a little strange and wanted to make sure Velazquez Rodriguez was OK. So the officer launched a line of questioning to see if he fit the Baker Act criteria — which essentially means did he represent an immediate risk of harm to himself or others.

The officer reported that Velazquez Rodriguez did not represent an immediate threat to himself or others and other than the unusual concerns about facing an arrest for tearing up a vehicle title, found Velazquez Rodriguez to be fairly lucid, according to Tyler.

After being reassured that he was not in any trouble, Tyler said Velazquez Rodriguez left the police station on foot and wasn’t seen again until his body was found two days later.

Tyler said there was no valid reason the officer would have felt the need to try and contact his family based on the encounter at the station and that the officer took his time in making sure Velazquez Rodriguez was sound enough to take care of himself.

Tyler said his officers are involved in the investigation since he was reported missing out of Palmetto, but that the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is handling “the lion’s share of it.”

Sheriff’s office spokesman Randy Warren said the death does not appear to be suspicious and it remains classified as a death investigation, noting there was no trauma to the body.

Warren said Wednesday that investigators are still trying to determine when, where and how Velazquez ended up in the water and are currently awaiting toxicology reports and an official cause of death from the medical examiner’s office. The investigation is ongoing.

Meanwhile, Velazquez Rodriguez’s family is trying to raise money for the funeral and set a $5,100 goal on gofundme. As of Wednesday afternoon, the page has raised $660. A coworker wrote on the page, “He looked out for me at work and was a friend.”

Another co-worker wrote, “Ricardo was an awesome person and friend and co-worker who helped train me to be successful at my job. Will miss you my friend.”

Family posts on Facebook indicate Velazquez Rodriguez was not a “big talker,” but had a knack for reaching out to family to express his love for them when they needed it most. Friends say he had a great sense of humor and will be missed.

Breaking News/Real Time Reporter Mark Young began his career in 1996 and has been with the Bradenton Herald since 2014. He has won more than a dozen awards over the years, including the coveted Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Florida Press Club and for beat reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists to name a few. His reporting experience is as diverse as the communities he covers.
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