POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WNCN/WFLA) – Millions of people in Florida are dealing with stress and struggling to recover since Hurricane Irma hit, but now there are some people making that situation worse by targeting small businesses just as they try to re-open.
At Dona Julia’s Mexican Restaurant, managers were excited to open back up Tuesday for the first time late last week.
But, early Tuesday morning someone broke in by throwing a cement block through the glass door. The looter stole about $300 in food and beer, Angela Araque said. Her family has owned the restaurant for 16 years.
With widespread power outages, people in the community have struggled to find places like Dona Julia’s, which has power and can serve customers.
“We were blessed that it didn’t hit us like the last hurricane. And then, we walk in here and they break in. And, three weeks prior to this we were robbed,” said Araque.
This break-in happened during a state of emergency, so the sheriff’s office says this crime is considered a felony.
“A lot of people don’t have light, water, food, anything. So, a lot of people are closed. So, we opened because we have power and people are hungry,” said Araque.
A lot of long-time customers came by Tuesday, trying to find places with power. Tim Gates says it’s heartbreaking to see what happened.
“I might do the same thing I did when I walked up. I might cry again because these are really fantastic people,” said Gates.
The Polk County sheriff’s office says looting cases have been isolated.
Deputies arrested three teens in a separate case Monday for a burglary at a Dollar General Store in Winter Haven. They also arrested two teens Friday in a burglary case at a home in Lake Wales.
Additionally, Lakeland police charged five men in connection with a burglary at a Starbucks on Monday.
“It’s just upsetting to us because we work hard, so then when somebody comes here for beer and just breaks a door, it’s just senseless. We’re just over it,” said Araque. “We’re staying strong, and we’re open. They wanted to keep us closed, but we’re not gonna stay closed. We’ll fix this door, and we’ll feed everybody.”
There’s a curfew in effect in Polk County from midnight to 5 a.m. daily. It’s unclear when it will be lifted. Sheriff’s deputies have arrested seven people for violating it.
Looting Incidents Occurring During Hurricane Irma
Sept. 9 – 11
Value Choice Pharmacy
13130 Dale Mabry Highway North
Suspect used a brick to shatter front door to make entry. The suspect then utilizes garbage bags to collect non-narcotic prescription medications and leaves. Approximately one hour later the suspect returns to the pharmacy and collects another plastic garbage bag with medications and flees the store.
On September 11, 2017 some of the medications were found in the area of 8800 block of Memorial Highway. It is estimated that $30,000 worth of medications were stolen, unknown value of what has been recovered. Estimated damage to Pharmacy is $1,000.
Circle K store
6422 Benjamin Road
Suspects entered the store by breaking out the front door with a hammer. Once inside they stole cigarettes, cigars and a couple cases of Corona beer. Suspects fled through the broken door.
Circle K store
10111 West Hillsborough Avenue
Suspect stole cigarettes
Sometime between September 9-11, unknown suspect(s) made forced entry into the victim’s apartment by throwing a rock through the patio sliding glass door. Once inside the apartment, the suspect(s) removed approximately $2,900 in items before exiting the front door.
Clark Avenue North
Sometime between September 10-11 unknown suspect(s) entered the residence through a bedroom window. Once inside, the suspects removed over $2,000 worth of items.
West Lake Drive, Wiamauma
Unknown suspect(s) forced entry through the front door and removed the victim’s television.
Mobile Convenience Store
10920 Highway 41 South, Gibsonton
Unknown suspects smashed the glass on the backdoor and removed various items valued at approximately $1,000
Newmauma Park Drive, Wimauma
Unknown suspects forced entry through the front door and removed the victim’s television.
Newmauma Park Drive, Wimauma
Unknown suspects forced entry through a rear sliding glass door and removed clothing.
Long Cypress Drive, Ruskin
Unknown suspects forced entry though a bedroom window and removed various items including jewelry.
Teresa’s Food Mart
11733 North 15 Street, Tampa
Unknown suspects used a stolen vehicle to crash into the building and steal items.
Tampa Bay Power Sports
13521 Florida Avenue North, Tampa
Unknown suspects crashed a vehicle into the building and stole seven dirt bikes.
1909 East Bearss Avenue, Tampa
Unknown suspect possibly entered through the drive thru window and took cash.
Family Dollar Store
2275 East Bears Avenue, Tampa
Unknown suspect entered by smashing front door. Suspects stole 50 cartons of cigarettes and did approximately $3,000 damage to the business (metal roll up door, cigarette case, office door, exterior door).
J & J Tires
19033 North Highway 41, Tampa
Unknown suspects entered the business and removed a laptop, tools, tire and other miscellaneous items valued at over $5,000.
Best Buy Liquors
195 Bloomingdale Avenue E, Brandon
Unknown suspects entered the business by shattering the glass door with a brick. Once inside the suspects took mini liquor bottles, lottery tickets and cigarettes, total value is estimated between $3,000 and $5,000.
Update: September 12 at 3:20 pm
7851 – 56 Street
Unknown suspects attempted unsuccessfully to ram a vehicle through the front door.
7202 Knights Griffin Road.
Unknown suspects smashed the front door and took approximately 180 boxes of cigarettes valued at approximately $11,000 dollars.
Citgo Gas Station
5117 92 Highway East
Unknown suspects smashed a window and removed the cash register containing approximately $200.00
8702 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Unknown suspects smashed the window and removed $81.00 in cigarettes.
10818 Highway 92 East
Unknown suspects forced entry into the front door and removed several high end compound bows and accessories valued at over $11,000.
12019 Highway 92 East
Unknown suspects smashed a window made entry and stole $240.00 in cash.