Fla. firefighter-medic's stolen iPhone helped cops solve his murder case

Coral Springs firefighter-paramedic Christopher Randazzo was shot dead after refusing to unlock his iPhone


By Lisa J. Huriash
Sun Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Chris Randazzo died protecting the passcode for his cellphone.

His killers had first spared his life: They stole his iPhone and other belongings at gunpoint and took off in a car, leaving him alive on the street. But when the three robbers realized they couldn’t unlock the phone, they turned their black Nissan Sentra around.

Randazzo was headed to his girlfriend's home about 2:30 in the morning Oct. 19 when the robbers attacked him and later returned to kill him. (Photo/Coral Springs-Parkland Fire Department)
Randazzo was headed to his girlfriend's home about 2:30 in the morning Oct. 19 when the robbers attacked him and later returned to kill him. (Photo/Coral Springs-Parkland Fire Department)

They demanded that the off-duty Coral Springs firefighter unlock it. He refused. They shot him dead.

Ultimately, it was the robbers’ back and forth on the road that night that would help detectives crack the case: A combination of cellphone data and license plate readers led them to their murder suspects, two sources with knowledge of the case told The South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Randazzo, who had visited bars in the beachside community of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, was headed to his girlfriend’s home about 2:30 in the morning Oct. 19 when the robbers attacked him and later returned to kill him.

In addition to stealing his iPhone, the robbers also took his wallet with $55, a knife and red Nike sneakers, records show.

Detectives haven’t said how much time elapsed between Randazzo’s two encounters with his killers. His body was found outside of a hotel along El Mar Drive, just a jog from the last seaside cafe where he had been spotted.

Detectives tracked cellphone towers to follow the path of Randazzo’s iPhone. And then they matched that to the town’s license plate readers to figure out which car made a similar trek around the pinned locations.

Additional sleuthing matched the Nissan’s license plate to a shooting at a Motel 6 in Lantana, which had happened just a few hours earlier, one source said. A second source said the shell casings left behind at the Lantana motel matched casings found at the murder scene. A female witness linked the three men to the Lantana shooting with the Randazzo murder.

A growing number of South Florida cities are using the license plate readers, in which cameras scan the license plates of passing cars and a computer program sends the information to a state and national database. Police are alerted in real time if there are hits to any wanted cars.

A Lauderdale-by-the-Sea spokesman said Tuesday the town has three stationary cameras that track coming and goings: two are on the north and south entrances to the town from State Road A1A, and the other is on Commercial Boulevard east of the bridge.

At the Motel 6 incident in Lantana just before 11 p.m. Oct. 18, a woman planned a ruse: She wanted to get back with an ex-boyfriend so she planned for her current boyfriend to sell him drugs, according to Palm Beach County court documents.

When the ex-boyfriend, Marco Rico, went to the motel driving his Nissan Sentra, one of his passengers got out and began shooting at the woman’s current boyfriend.

Who owns the car isn’t clear, but court records say Rico uses the 2013 Nissan.

As bullets rained, the victim hid in a stairwell near the motel pool to escape the shots that were fired at him. Nobody was hurt, but a palm tree took a bullet and four casings were found on the walkway by motel rooms 162, 163 and 164.

As all five people drove away — the woman, Rico, and Rico’s three passengers — one of those passengers had had enough because of the Lantana motel drama. She wanted out, according to court records.

She requested to leave the group in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, where she lived nearby, and took a Lyft the rest of the way, according to a source.

That’s how Torrey Holston, 19 — who the Broward Sheriff’s Office said was Randazzo’s shooter — and Jose Garcia Romero, 20, and Rico, 32, wound up in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, more than 30 miles away from the Lantana motel, according to the source.

Both women spoke to detectives, according to records, and identified the men. The three men are facing homicide charges in Randazzo’s killing.

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©2019 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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