ST. JOHNS, Fla. – Detectives are asking for the public's help identifying a person of interest in connection with two smash-and-grab burglaries last month in a shopping center on County Road 210, the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office announced Wednesday.
Shortly after 4 a.m. on April 4, deputies said, at least five vehicles pulled into the St. Johns Creek Center at C.R. 210 and St. Johns Parkway before at least eight men smashed the glass front doors of the Rivertown Fine Wine & Spirits and Verizon stores.
Detectives said a cellphone and two iPads were stolen from the Verizon store.
The liquor store reported $300 to $400 taken from a pancreas cancer charity jar and about $8,000 worth of high-end alcohol, including a bottle valued at $900, along with cash from the register, according to the store's owner, Frank Dvoravic.
Dvoravic's wife is a 10-year pancreatic cancer survivor and several customers came to the store after hearing of the burglary to replenish the charity jar. A GoFundMe account was also started.
Dvoravic told News4Jax on Wednesday that $2,500 had been donated, and the Verizon store even put out a charity basket -- raising more than $300 in a week.
On Wednesday, the Sheriff's Office released a surveillance image of a person of interest in connection with the burglaries. Investigators said they learned the person of interest entered the liquor store the previous evening, April 3, and purchased two small bottles of alcohol.
The man, who was wearing a dark-colored shirt and acid-washed jeans, appeared to be intently looking around the area, and the first man who went into the store during the burglary appeared to be wearing the same jeans, according to detectives.
"With this photograph that they have now, someone should be able to identify this person," said News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith. "Having this person's photograph and identification is very important because if they can bring in him, then he can lead them to other people. Even if he's not cooperative, they can check his associates, social media, prior arrest records to see who he's hung out with in the past and, maybe, committed crimes with in the past."
Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Kyle Braig at 904-209-2148 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for a cash reward, contact Crime Stoppers of Northeast Florida at 1-888-277-TIPS (8477).
Last month, investigators said, recent crimes at the St. Augustine outlets also appear to have been carried out by similar crime rings.
Detectives said the break-ins are part of a growing trend of organized crime rings burglarizing businesses off I-95, often hitting cellphone stores or retail sunglasses or clothing stores. Deputies said the thieves strike in the early morning hours, then jump onto the interstate and do it again the next night.
The crooks, who often use search engines and cellphones to select their targets, sell what they steal on the black market, investigators said.