After double shooting, changes coming to Conway corner
After a January shooting that left two dead outside a Conway smoke shop, neighbors feared crime was gaining a grip on their community.
Some blamed the 407 Smoke Shop, which took over a gas station at Conway and Curry Ford roads in southeast Orlando, and a food truck that parked outside and stayed open until 4 a.m.
“We were very concerned about what Conway was becoming,” said Carol Cozad, who has lived in the area for more than two decades.
But after a second community meeting, and assurances from Orlando commissioners that change was on the way, some of the angst has subsided. Since the first January meeting, the Piñones en Orlando-Guaguita food truck has moved on to a new location, which means fewer people hanging out late at night.
Commissioner Jim Gray, whose district includes the intersection, said he’s going to suggest amending an existing law to prohibit smoke shops that sell drug paraphernalia from the neighborhood and food trucks from operating between midnight and 6 a.m. City code already prohibits tattoo parlors, bail bondsmen and fortune tellers nearby.
“What we heard from the neighbors is the area had started to slip a bit,” Gray said. “We wanted to concentrate on the food truck and the smoke shop.”
Gray’s proposal will allow 407 Smoke Shop to remain in business, but if it ever shuts down, a new one wouldn’t be able to move in.
Several attempts to reach the shop’s owner by phone were unsuccessful, and an employee at the store declined to let a reporter speak with the owner. Inside the shop, patrons can purchase items such as bongs and rolling papers advertised for tobacco use, as well as beer and wine.
The plan came together with input from code enforcement, police and commissioners Patty Sheehan and Tony Ortiz, whose districts are near the intersection.
It must be approved by the City Council, and Gray said he could formally bring it forward within two months after a review by city staff and attorneys.
Late at night, residents reported that customers lined up for the food truck and at flea-market-style tables where trinkets were on sale in the parking lot.
“The owner of the food truck is a wonderful gentleman … the problem is, the parking space was too small,” said Ortiz, a retired police officer who used to patrol the area. “The second thing is, he couldn’t control what kind of clientele he was getting.”
Since the truck moved on, “it immediately was cleaned up,” Cozad said.
After the shooting that left Ramon Rivera and Orlando Perez dead Jan. 3, police arrested Ray David Robles-Rivera and charged him with two counts of second-degree murder. Police have not released a motive.
Orlando Police Capt. Jose Velez, who oversees the department’s 88 sworn officers assigned to the east region, said a warrant has been issued for a second suspect who fled the country.
Since Jan. 1, 2017, police have responded to the business 15 times, including four calls reporting suspicious persons, a trespasser and a fugitive from justice, police records show. However, none of the calls appear drug-related, and besides the shooting, none involved violence.
Gray said code enforcement would pay closer attention to the shop to ensure it’s following city rules and he will meet with the Orlando Utilities Commission to add more lights to the intersection.
He also said police and city officials are contacting area apartment complex managers to teach them about the city’s Crime Free Multi-Housing Program, which acts as a neighborhood watch.
Velez said his officers have also beefed up patrols in the neighborhood around the shop to ease community concerns and encouraged residents to call 911 to let police know when they deem something suspicious.
After hearing of the plan last week, Cozad, 64, said the residents were pleased with the progress.
“We just asked the commissioners to help us clean that up,” she said. “We just want to keep it down and keep it a nice family community that’s safe.”