Saturday, August 9, 2008

For Reyka's family, justice is a matter of time and hope

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Saturday, August 09, 2008

POMPANO BEACH — Sometimes you just have to wait for justice.

Leads in the killing of Broward Sheriff's Sergeant Chris Reyka - over 3,000 of them in the past year - have led many places, but not to his murderers.

Today marks one year since the 51-year-old father of four, who lived in Wellington, was ambushed and shot five times by an unknown assassin.

Shortly after 1 a.m. that day, Reyka approached what he considered two suspicious vehicles in the dusky parking lot of the Walgreens drug store on Pompano Parkway. His killer apparently emerged from one of the cars, firing before Reyka could draw his gun.

A surveillance camera captured a grainy image of a white, American-made sedan leaving the scene. A witness apparently gave a vague description of the gunman. The sheriff at the time, Ken Jenne, said justice would be done.

"We're at war," Jenne said. "We'll get you. We'll find you."

But even that first day, Jenne expressed doubts that justice would come quickly.

"The reality is, this is a tough one," he said. "It's not a very detailed car description and not a very detailed suspect description. Whether it takes a day, a week, a month or a decade, we will find the thugs responsible."

Subhead around here

It has been a frustrating, painful year for Reyka's sheriff's office colleagues and other South Florida law enforcement officers, who are anxious to avenge his death.

Current Sheriff Al Lamberti, who took over after Jenne resigned in September due to unrelated corruption charges, recently posted his thoughts on the BSO Web site in a statement to the public.

"The person or persons responsible for this heinous crime have not been brought to justice," Lamberti wrote. "Our agency is committed to solving Sgt. Reyka's homicide, but we need your help. We are certain that someone somewhere knows who perpetrated this crime. Our agency will never stop working to solve Sgt. Reyka's murder."

He reminded the public that a $267,000 reward has been posted for information leading to the arrest of the killers.

Reyka's family has also lived not only with the tragedy but the frustration of knowing that his murderers are still free. His widow Kim keeps up her hopes.

"I do feel very confident that the person or persons will be found," Kim said in a recent interview with The Palm Beach Post. "It's just a matter of time.

"I don't know until it happens exactly how I'll feel," she continued. "I think there is a certain amount of closure. It's like you have a puzzle and it's solved. We would know who did it, why did they do it. It doesn't bring him back, obviously. Justice will be served, which is important because they're violent people, and as time goes on, hopefully, that pain softens."

She also looks for a silver lining in the fact that the investigation has taken time.

"Since they didn't find (the killers) right away, the police have really had to work very hard and brainstorm and come up with ways to approach and investigate (and) I feel in the long run that will help somebody else," she says.

Their son, Sean, 21 and a U.S. Marine, isn't sure the person responsible will be caught, but either way the killer will pay the price, he says.

"I know the person who did this remains free, but I also believe strongly that God has a plan of some sort, and that the guy who did this will get whatever is coming to him," Sean said.

"Maybe prison or lethal injection are too good for this guy, and having to spend his life in fear and always hiding is a more just punishment," he said. "The person who did this has taken a great person from this world."

A massive manhunt started within minutes of Reyka's death and the 3,000-plus tips started pouring in almost immediately.

Later that same day, a man in a white car matching the description of the murder vehicle led law enforcement agents on a 100 mph chase on I-95. The car was caught, but the driver was cleared of the murder.

Two Greyhound buses were stopped that day far north of Pompano - one in St. Cloud and the other in Fort Pierce - but no fugitives were found aboard.

A white car was set ablaze in Hollywood within 24 hours of the shooting, drawing law enforcement attention, but it wasn't the right vehicle. Investigators are still looking for the car, which they say resembles a Mercury Grand Marquis or a Ford Crown Victoria.

The license tag on the murder car - F16 8UJ - had been stolen from an Oakland Park plumbing firm and that apparently led nowhere.

National TV coverage no help

In December, deputies arrested three men whom they charged with robbing a series of all-night pharmacies. A relative of one of those suspects told investigators that those men had thrown several handguns into a canal just east of I-95 at West Atlantic Boulevard a short distance from the scene of the Reyka murder.

According to law enforcement sources, sheriff's divers brought several guns out of the canal. None had killed Reyka. But the three robbery suspects — Timothy Johnson, 34, Gerald Joshua, 28 and Deitrich Johnson, 22 — are still being held. Police refuse to say whether they are suspects or "people of interest" in the Reyka killing.

Divers also searched Esquire Lake, less than 2 miles from the murder site, but apparently didn't find the murder weapon.

The case was covered on the television show America's Most Wanted, but no one came forward with information to solve the crime.

One disappearance was solved as a result of the investigation, although it had nothing to do with the Reyka case.

The search for the white car led police to a stretch of the Hillsboro Canal in northern Broward County, where on Dec. 4 they found a sunken Mercedes-Benz and in it the body of Barry Fish, who had disappeared 15 years ago shortly after leaving his parents' house in Boca Raton. He had apparently driven into the canal and drowned.

His family achieved some closure. The Reykas are still waiting.

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