Lost Tourist Fatally Shot During Robbery
MIAMI (AP) _ A Dutch woman who got lost and stopped for directions in a blighted, high-crime neighborhood was shot Friday in an apparent holdup, the first random slaying of a foreign tourist in Florida in more than two years.
Officials had set up a variety of safeguards for visitors since a string of tourist murders in the past few years damaged Florida’s $31 billion-per-year tourism industry.
But Tosca Dieperink, 39, was shot on a bright, sunny day at a gas station with cars and pedestrians all around.
The woman and her husband ``apparently appeared to be tourists″ to their assailants, Detective Brian Calloway said. ``They saw the opportunity and they acted on what they saw.″
Tosca and Gerrit-Jan Dieperink, 43, were going shopping and stopped at at a Shell station _ a Dutch-owned company whose logo is familiar to tourists worldwide _ for directions, Police Chief Frank Boni said. The husband walked out of the car with a map, leaving his wife alone inside.
As Mr. Dieperink talked to the gas station manager, a man walked up and began frisking him. The man showed a gun when the manager tried to chase him away.
At the same time, another man walked up to Mrs. Dieperink, who was sitting in the front passenger seat with the windows rolled up and the doors locked, police said. When he couldn’t open the car door, he fired once, shattering the window and hitting Mrs. Dieperink in the upper torso.
As the two men fled, Gerrit-Jan Dieperink ran back to the car and began driving away before he realized his wife had been shot. She died at a hospital two hours later.
Police said the two gunmen escaped in a car driven by a third man, without getting anything from the Dieperinks. They stole a pager from the station manager.
The couple, who arrived in Florida on Thursday, were in a rental car, but police said it had no markings identifying it as such.
Police don’t know if the couple had been followed or, as whites, simply stood out in Liberty City, a mostly black neighborhood where crime is rampant and unemployment high. The neighborhood was the scene of race riots in 1980, in which 18 people died, and has seen other, lesser disturbances over the ensuing years.
Frank K. Simmons, 25, a black truck driver, was upset that so much attention was focused on the death of a white tourist when blacks are killed regularly in the neighborhood.
``If it was one of us, nobody would care. It would just be called drug-related,″ said Simmons, who added that the rear window of his vehicle was shot out recently. ``But if it’s a tourist, then _ whoa _ it’s a big deal.″
It was the first shooting death of a foreign visitor in Florida since September 1993. A German national was killed last month in the Florida Keys in a drunken fistfight at a bar. Before that, a string of 10 slayings in 13 months tarnished the state’s image as a tranquil vacation haven and drove the city to take a number of steps to safeguard tourists.
Tourists now can rent high-tech cars with an electronic mapping system and a panic button that will give police their location. Rental agencies have removed stickers or plates that identify their cars as loaners.
Vistors also can use roadside tourist phones to call for help and visit special police stations near frequently used highway exits. New highway signs with sunburst symbols lead them to hotels, where they’ll be given more safety tips.
In waiting areas at Miami’s airport, visitors can watch a police video on safety tips, including warnings not to pull over on dark streets to look at maps. The airport also is loaded with pamphlets and special ``tourist police″ on the lookout for pickpockets.
``In an urban environment, you’re never going to be totally successful,″ said Mayco Villafana, a spokesman for the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.