Customs agent shot dead at Fla. post office

By Jennifr Mooney Piedra and Adam H. Beasley
The Miami Herald

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. — A vast manhunt is underway for the gunman who killed an off-duty federal agent in a dispute outside one of Broward's busiest post offices Tuesday morning.

The agent, who was with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, died at Memorial Regional Hospital less than three hours after he was shot about 9 a.m. during an argument with a man in the parking lot of the South Florida Mail Processing Center on Pines Boulevard.

The gunman, described as being in his mid-40s to mid-50s with a full head of gray hair, fled in a dark-colored Chrysler 300. He was wearing a short-sleeve, green, plaid shirt, authorities said.

The victim's name was not released.

Just after noon, roughly 200 federal and local agents, together with local police, gathered in the Pembroke Pines post office's parking lot at Dykes Road and Pines Boulevard to launch a dragnet in search of the suspect.

''We're going to saturate the area,'' said Sgt. Bryan Davis, a Pembroke Pines police spokesman. ``We're going to turn over every rock.''

A Homeland Security helicopter hovered overhead, and law enforcement officers from local, state and federal agencies were stationed at every major intersection, keeping an eye out for the getaway car.

The operation's staging area appeared to be at Westfork Plaza, adjacent to the Customs and Border Protection office and just west of Interstate 75. Agents from Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Florida Highway Patrol and uniformed police officers were among aiding in the search.

Investigators are still trying to piece together what led to the shooting, Davis said, but here is what is known:

The suspect and the agent began arguing in the parking lot of the post office, 16000 Pines Blvd.

The fight escalated, and the middle-age man fired at least one shot, striking the federal agent, possibly in the head.

''We don't know what happened,'' Davis said. ``This just appears to be some type of altercation in the parking lot.''

The shooter then sped east on Pines Boulevard, leaving the agent bleeding in front of his car -- another Chrysler 300.

The shooting did not involve any postal employees.

Luis, a customer at the post office who declined to give his last name, said he was driving out of the lot when he heard a single shot ring out.

'Then I heard a woman screaming, `Somebody just got shot!' '' the witness said.

Investigators later interviewed postal employees and customers in the parking lot.

The post office's main lobby has been closed as authorities collect evidence, but the part of the facility where mail is sorted remains operational.

Copyright 2008 The Miami Herald

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