Sheriff: Crimes at The Marquee near UCF not a trend
When 22-year-old Darious Pettress pulled a gun out in the stairwell of the then-Sterling Central apartments, it was the start of a series of incidents that would eventually taint how some residents and parents felt about the UCF-area complex.
Three other incidents would occur in the weeks following the alleged armed robbery Pettress inflicted upon an 18-year-old victim — and the complaints about safety followed suit.
"I wouldn't renew my lease. I'd rather be in a safer environment so I don't have to worry," said resident Tasheka Linton following the events.
Linton wasn't alone. Residents took to Facebook and social media calling out the complex for the criminal incidents.
"[It's] full of crime!! Management sucks!!!! Crime, crime and more crime!!!!" a resident posted to the complex's Facebook wall as a review.
Parents did the same.
But despite accusations of poor management and lackluster safety efforts, Orange County deputies say there isn't as much cause for concern as people may think. Although the string of incidents occurred at this one particular complex, the incidents were isolated and each had a number of factors that insinuated they were not part of an ongoing trend, said Orange County Sheriff's Office Capt. Stephen Garrison. Garrison leads the east sector command of deputies, which encompasses the UCF area and dealt directly with these incidents.
"I wouldn't term [the complex] as being targeted. Three robberies over the course of months isn't something we'd term as being targeted or a crime wave or something of that nature," he said.
Pettress would be the alleged subject of a second armed robbery that took place at the complex, but Garrison said deputies were able to intervene and solve the case, which ended in Pettress' arrest. Currently, Pettress is still being held at the Orange County Jail and his girlfriend, who was a resident, has since vacated the complex. He has been charged with counts of robbery with a firearm and aggravated battery with a firearm.
"He's in jail, obviously, but she isn't [at the complex anymore] either, so we consider that incident pretty much closed," Garrison said.
Following the robberies, Sterling Central changed management companies and was renamed The Marquee.
The third incident involved a Valencia College student who was sucker-punched in a parking garage. An incident report from the OCSO states that the 20-year-old student was attacked by two Hispanic males who then stole $5 from his wallet and fled on foot. The victim was taken to the Oviedo ER where doctors believed his jaw was broken from the hit.
Although the third violent incident in a matter of weeks at the apartment complex, Garrison said this appeared to be an isolated incident as well, and there are some questionable matters concerning the case because the victim did not alert authorities right away.
"In my 26 years of experience, with anybody who doesn't call 911 right away there may be more to the story, and it took him about 45 minutes to even call us," he said. "I'm not really sure what that's all about."
As for the last of the incidents, deputies are still investigating a string of attempted burglaries that occurred in the phase I parking garage on Nov. 18. Although two to three cars were actually broken into, Garrison said this is actually the biggest problem UCF-area apartment complexes face and certainly isn't restricted to The Marquee parking garages.
In fact, Garrison said the most important thing students can do at this point in the game is to make sure that their cars are locked and to be aware of their surroundings at all times — this means not burying your head in text message conversations or browsing Facebook as you walk.
"In general, we're a metropolitan area that sees 50 million tourists a year, near a large university, the crime versus the population is very low for that area," Garrison said. "There's things for us to work on. There's always crime for us to work on with the sheriff's office and I think the majority of our problems are people not locking the doors on their cars. If I could just get people to lock their cars up around the university, it would help with the major issue I have."
As for the apartment complex itself, The Marquee has since amped up security, including a new access policy that requires residents to pass a check point at the garages and escort their guests. Courtesy officers have been employed to monitor the new restrictions, and awareness education programming has been implemented for residents, said David Shaffer, senior general manager of The Marquee.
"The Marquee's management takes our residents' well-being very seriously," Shaffer said in an email. "It is a tenet of our resident service approach and a philosophy that guides the policies and procedures implemented at the community ... We are focused on working with our community partners, specifically the Orange County Sheriff's Department, to address and develop solutions to address crime prevention in the East Orange County area."
Nevertheless, it may be a while before residents feel at ease.
"I don't feel safe at all and with what I pay in rent," said resident Breanna Owens. "There needs to be more active measures to help keep us safe."
Destiny Fulbright contributed to this report.