Widower, detectives still seek answers in 2012 food-truck killing

More than a year has passed since 65-year-old Mireya María Alvarado was gunned down as she closed her food truck for the night, yet investigators are no closer to solving the killing.

Every week, her widower, Rolando Carrasquel, cuts flowers from his garden and places them in front of her portrait inside the small home they shared in Holden Heights.

Every day, he thinks of the attempted robbery that took her life. He wants the community to remember, too.

Carrasquel has been distributing postcards bearing Alvarado's smiling image in the hope that a $5,000 reward will entice someone to come forward with information.

"Nunca te olvidaremos," read the colorful cards, which show Latin American flags arranged in the shape of a cross. "De parte de todos tus amigos, descansa en paz."

Translation: "We will never forget you. On behalf of all your friends, rest in peace."

Central Florida Crimeline sent a flier to nearby residents shortly after the April 22, 2012, killing on East Colonial Drive but has received only a couple of vague tips, Executive Director Barb Bergin said.

Orange County sheriff's detectives collected evidence, interviewed witnesses and canvassed the neighborhood but have come up empty-handed, said Cpl. David Nutting, a homicide-unit supervisor.

The night was dark and rainy, and few people were around.

The only known eyewitness is Alvarado's 83-year-old neighbor, René Martínez, who was helping out on the truck, called Arepera Solita, because Alvarado's husband was recovering from surgery. A few other people saw two young men wearing hoodies run away.

The crime is proving especially difficult to solve because there was no relationship between Alvarado and the men who killed her, Nutting said.

"Usually, we can find some connection between a victim and a suspect," he said. "She did not live a high-risk lifestyle — unless you consider operating a food truck at 2 a.m. in Orlando a high-risk lifestyle."

Dream realized

Alvarado, a native of the Dominican Republic, and Carrasquel had been operating the truck for six months in the parking lot of a detailing and window-tinting shop at 5021 E. Colonial Drive. The former nurse's aide was helping her husband fulfill his dream of showcasing food from his native Venezuela and other Hispanic countries.

After his wife's death, Carrasquel couldn't bear the thought of working in the truck. He sold it and took a job cleaning offices.

Meanwhile, the couple's home remains as it was when Alvarado was alive.

"I won't move anything to keep her present," Carrasquel said in Spanish.

The night of the killing, the truck was parked at its usual spot, where it offered a $5.50 special of fish-head soup with fried green plantains and other delicacies.

Martínez opened the door so he and Alvarado could bring in the chairs and found himself face to face with two strangers, one holding a handgun. He pushed the gunman's arm away, heard one shot and felt a bullet tear through the middle finger of his right hand, he said.

Behind him, Alvarado crumpled to the floor of the truck when the bullet struck her in the chest. She died a short time later at Orlando Regional Medical Center.

Martínez has built a shrine to his friend in her front yard, where flowers and plants grow near a statue of St. Anthony, Alvarado's favorite saint.

"That moment changed my life," said Martínez, who ekes out a living by selling aluminum cans to recycling centers. "Being the last person to see her alive saddened me."

Martínez speaks only Spanish, and his attempts to get help from a 911 dispatcher who did not understand him led to changes in Sheriff's Office policy and training.

Guidelines now require operators to seek help more quickly from a bilingual co-worker, ask callers if they have a translator available or bridge a call to a translation service. The goal is to establish a "functional dialogue" within 60 seconds.

The Sheriff's Office also streamlined the process of connecting to Language Line translation service and made it easy for 911 operators to know which of their on-duty colleagues speak a foreign language.

The operator who handled Martínez's call received "written counseling" for failing to immediately summon medical help and for asking a witness go to the food truck to "see what's going on."

The short delay did not change the outcome for Alvarado, investigators said.

Suspects still at large

Though leads have run out, detectives still hope that someone will speak up. At least two people know what happened — the shooter and his accomplice — and they may have told someone else.

Maybe conscience will start to gnaw at one of killers. Maybe one will get charged with another crime and use information about the shooting as a bargaining chip.

"Certainly all hope is not lost," Nutting said. "Somebody out there knows."

One suspect is described as a light-skinned black man in his early 20s, about 5-feet-5, skinny and with shoulder-length, tightly braided black hair. The other suspect was described only as in his early 20s and short. Both robbers wore hoodies.

Investigators vow to keep the case open as long as it takes to solve.

"It's frustrating for us and the family to know there's somebody walking around enjoying life and the family's grieving," Nutting said. or 407-540-5981. or 407-540-4004.

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