MIAMI (CBS4) – Miami Police are asking for the public’s help in finding a man who was inside a Little Havana convenience store before its 44-year-old owner was attacked and nearly killed by a customer wielding a small sledge hammer.
A neighbor who works across the street from the store at 501 N.W. 12th Avenue told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench that the man who police are looking for may have bumped into the suspect when he was leaving the store at 12:15 p.m. on Sunday, December 18, 2011.
“I know he bumped into the guy,” said Joaquin Hernandez, who works at the Pan American Cafeteria. “That’s what detective Jenny told me.”
“He bumped into him and that’s why Police are looking for him?” D’Oench asked.
“Uh-huh,” Hernandez replied.
Miami Police spokeswoman Kenia Reyes told D’Oench that she had not been told that, but she said the man who police are looking for could have some helpful information.
Yue Kui Cen, who is known as “Alex” and is the owner of Alex’s Mini Market, was sprayed on the face with ammonia and oil by a man who entered the store on the pretense of buying two gallons of milk.
The attacker was seen on surveillance tape striking the victim six times on the back of the head by a thief who fled with two cartons of Marlboro cigarettes.
Fifty-year-old Rodobaldo Sanchez has been charged in the attack. Miami’s Police Chief Manuel Orosa has said there is enough evidence to convict Sanchez,.
Sources told CBS4 that the victim’s blood was found on Sanchez’s cap and that his fingerprints were found on a cigarette carton dropped at the crime scene.
But this potential witness, who is seen on the surveillance tape wearing a baseball cap and a grey shirt, could place Sanchez at the crime scene and strengthen the case.
Neighbor Joaquin Hernandez told CBS4 that he had seen the man who police are looking for earlier in the day at his store.
Nearly two months after the attack, the incident still prompts strong feelings around the victim’s store, which is still closed.
“It’s really sad,” said Joaquin Hernandez. “You know what a nice guy he was.”
“I hope they catch him, this man they are looking for, so they can question him,” said Abel Hernandez, who also works at the Cafeteria. “I feel horrible for the person that happened to.”
Carlos Hernandez, another neighbor who is a cousin of Joaquin Hernandez, said, “He’s a good guy, the man who was attacked. The guy comes from a good family. It’s not right what they did to this guy.”
Yue Kui Cen is still at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
On the day after the attack, at a news conference, the victim’s wife, Phuong Thuy Ly Cen, said she could not shake the images of what happened to her husband.
“He’s got a very cold blood to do this,” she said. “My husband is very nice. You know he’s never any trouble with anybody. My husband’s very innocent. He’s a good guy.”
Rodobaldo Sanchez was arrested just three days after the attack after being stopped while riding his bicycle. Several packs of Marlboro cigarettes were discovered with him.
Chief Orosa said Sanchez had been arrested before in Italy, Costa Rica and Key West on charges that sources said included theft and drug dealing.
“He’s very cold,” Orosa said on December 22nd, 2011. “He’s very callous. He wanted to do a robbery. He wanted to get the cigarettes and he showed no remorse. He denied even being there.”
Police said Sanchez has a swastika tattoed on his right forearm, but Chief Orosa said he had no reason to believe that the attack on the Chinese-American father of two children was racially motivated.
When reached through a spokeswoman at Jackson Memorial Hospital on Tuesday, Phuong Thuy Ly Cen said she did not want to comment about the latest developments in the case or how she and her husband were doing.
On December 22nd, CBS4’s D’Oench reported that one doctor told Miami Police that the part of the victim’s brain that was damaged controls his motor skills. And even if he does recover, he will most likely have some permanent brain damage.