OAKLAND PARK, Fla. – Police have arrested a suspect who they believe stole a vehicle that led to the death of a wheelchair-bound husky.
Wilton Manors police said Jephthe Francis, 19, was arrested Thursday on 15 charges stemming from a vehicle theft last week in a Dollar Tree parking lot in Oakland Park. Francis faces one charge for the death of Zorra, a disabled, wheelchair-bound husky.
Wanda Ferrari was driving a loaner vehicle last Thursday when she parked in a Dollar Tree parking lot on the corner of Andrew Avenue and Oakland Park Boulevard, she told deputies. She parked the vehicle in a handicapped spot and stepped briefly inside the store, Ferrari said.
Surveillance footage from a nearby camera allegedly shows Francis approach the vehicle. In the video, he can be seen opening the driver's side door, getting in and is driving off.
On Tuesday, authorities located the missing car at a tow lot. The dog was also found dead in the back seat.
"I really needed Zorra to go through this bout of cancer with me," Ferrari said through tears upon hearing of Zorra's death.
Ferrari is being treated for a second diagnosis of cancer.
"She'd been through the last one with me, but they said they were doing everything that they possibly could and would continue to do what they definitely could do to make sure this person comes to justice," Ferrari said.
Francis was arrested Thursday morning. Authorities used a GPS locator, worn by Francis as part of a pre-trial release for an unrelated crime, to tie him to the scene where the car was located.
Francis' arrest elicited strong reactions from those who helped in the search for the animal.
"Face of the devil! Justice for Zorra," wrote 100+ Abandoned Dogs of Everglades Florida on its Facebook page. The organization, along with Jamie Katz Pet Detective, helped Ferrari in the search for Zorra and backed a $3,000 cash reward for her return.
Francis appeared before a judge on Thursday. He is being held on a $117,300 bond.