Venice Police have a suspect in custody in Wednesday night's attempted carjacking.
Officials recovered fingerprints belonging to 53-year-old Ralph M. Forte from one of the vehicles the suspect attempted to carjack. Investigators were able to obtain access to the surveillance camera footage located within the business allowing investigators to view Forte at the scene of the crime.
Forte was contacted at his home Thursday and fully confessed to committing all the alleged crimes. He is currently in custody at the Venice Police Department.
Charges will be determined pending further investigation.
The victim at the massage business, an Asian female in her 40s, underwent successful surgery for her head injuries and is recovering.
Venice, Florida -- Police are looking for a white man in his 30s as a suspect in two attempted carjackings and two battery cases. Police say one case left a woman is in critical condition at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
The crime spree started at 7:55 p.m. Wednesday when a woman was seen running out of the 88 Spa Massage on S. Tamiami Trail.
Robert McVey saw the woman running and screaming for help. He says, “A woman came running out of here screaming. The guy was chasing her. He fell in the middle of the street. She went over there by those round things on the ground (Shell gas station) she collapsed and started throwing up all over the place. I don’t know what was around her neck I think it was tape.”
McVey says nurses from the nearby hospital helped her. He thought of running after the guy but he disappeared.
Police say the chain of violence continued on South Tamiami Trail when the suspect tried carjacking a red pickup.
A few blocks away the driver saw the same man again in the bed of his truck. He drove into the Publix and slams on the brakes, ejecting the suspect.
Desperate to get away, the suspect tried to carjack a Publix employee in the parking lot. The suspect threatened them -- he had a knife. The two struggled, and police said after beating the elderly man he fled on foot.
Venice Police Chief Tom Mattmuller says several agencies searched the area late into the night.
“We tracked him for a short time and recovered lots of evidence,” he says.
Police are questioning witnesses and the female victim. Mattmuller says, “The suspect was probably known to her.”
But by midday, there was no sign of the suspect and that’s why parent John Bain wishes he had known sooner about the search. His daughter attends Venice High School, which was on lockdown because the attempted carjacker was on the run.
Bain says, “That kind of stuff should have been made known there’s a violent criminal in town. We get Amber alerts, get them on our phone .. better way to let residents know.”
Bain says he wishes he had the option to keep his daughter at home or take her to school and talk about what was happening so she’d be extra careful.
A public safety alert was issued by the City of Venice on behalf of the police department at 11:22 a.m. Thursday, 15 hours after the crime spree began.
10News WTSP asked Mattmuller and the Mayor John Holic why the public wasn’t notified earlier?
Mattmuller says, “I feel the actions we took that night in searching for him and going back this morning … resources we used from the Florida Marine Patrol, Sarasota sheriff’s department, VPD … searching that area right now looks like he was able to leave the area.”
Mattmuller held a press conference Thursday afternoon at the request of several media outlets. He said he didn’t think there was a threat to the Venice community at that time but the suspect was still on the loose.
Holic says he, too, was in the dark. “I wish I could have known sooner. I found out exactly when you did.”
Holic says this breakdown in communication is something they will seriously take a closer look at so it doesn’t happen again.
The investigation is being coordinated by the Venice Police Detective Division. The public is urged to call 941-486-2444 with any additional information.
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