ROCKINGHAM, Vt. — A Florida doctor has been charged with murder in an alleged 2019 road rage incident in which he shot and killed the driver of a produce delivery truck on a Vermont highway.
Dr. Jozsef Piri, 49, of Naples, was arrested Dec. 16 as he walked out of a Publix supermarket across the street from his medical practice, authorities said. He was extradited to Vermont last week to face charges in the death of Roberto Fonseca-Rivera, 44, of Boston.
Piri, who appeared in court virtually Monday from the Windham County Jail, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.
Piri did not know Fonseca-Rivera prior to the shooting, according to police. Fonseca-Rivera was found dead Nov. 1, 2019, behind the wheel of his Katsiroubas Produce truck.
He had been shot in the face, according to court records.
“The idea that he would just decide to gun down somebody that he doesn’t even know, that sounds preposterous, frankly,” Piri’s defense attorney, John Amabile, told WCAX in Burlington.
Piri, an internal medicine doctor, is certified in Florida and Connecticut. According to authorities, Piri lived in Connecticut at the time of the homicide and was returning home from property he owns in Londonberry, Vermont.
Violine Michel, a neighbor of Fonseca-Rivera’s in Boston, told Boston 25 News earlier this month that she was shocked to learn a doctor, whose responsibility is to save lives, could have killed the hardworking father.
“I’m totally baffled. I would have never imagined,” Michel told the news station.
Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Tyson Kinney wrote in a probable cause affidavit that one of Fonseca-Rivera’s colleagues called state troopers the evening of the shooting to report that Fonseca-Rivera had not returned from a Vermont restaurant delivery. The co-worker said the GPS in Fonseca-Rivera’s truck showed the vehicle was stopped on Vermont Route 103 in Rockingham.
Dispatchers sent a trooper to the area to check on Fonseca-Rivera.
Around 6:15 p.m., the trooper found the green Katsiroubas Produce box truck parked in the breakdown lane of the rural two-lane highway.
Fonseca-Rivera was slumped in the driver’s seat, dead. According to troopers, his left hand was still on the steering wheel and his right hand rested on the gear shift.
Two bullet holes dotted his windshield, and there was a gouge in the truck’s hood.
“It appears this gouge was made from one of the projectiles being fired at Fonseca-Rivera, indicating the shot killing Fonseca-Rivera was fired from the front of his vehicle,” Kinney wrote in the affidavit.
At Fonseca-Rivera’s autopsy, it was determined that the single 9mm bullet that struck him in the chin perforated his carotid artery before lodging in the back of his neck. The medical examiner found that Fonseca-Rivera’s death was not immediate and that he had time to pull over and park the vehicle before losing consciousness.
The truck’s GPS system showed that at 1:21 p.m. the day of the shooting, Fonseca-Rivera was driving at nearly 60 mph before suddenly decelerating, increasing speed and again decelerating, all within a 5-second period, the affidavit states. By 1:22 p.m., the truck had come to a stop and stayed that way until it was found several hours later.
Troopers conducted a canvass of the surrounding area and located security cameras at multiple homes and businesses along Fonseca-Rivera’s route. The cameras showed Fonseca-Rivera’s truck traveling south along Route 103, or Rockingham Road, in the minutes before the shooting.
He was last spotted driving less than a mile from where he died.
Detectives pored over the footage and found multiple vehicles of interest. One of those vehicles was a silver 2018 Toyota Tundra that initially was seen traveling about three and a half minutes ahead of Fonseca-Rivera.
The truck was registered to Piri, who at the time lived in West Simsbury, Connecticut.
Eventually, the cameras showed the Tundra ahead of the produce truck by only four seconds. The footage also indicated that Piri was the last driver to pass the cameras before Fonseca-Rivera.
At some point along the way, Kinney wrote, Piri’s truck had “slowed significantly.”
Investigating troopers conducted several interviews with Fonseca-Rivera’s family, co-workers and friends. One of his friends, Pedro Iroala, told detectives he was on the phone with Fonseca-Rivera at the time of the shooting, though he did not know until later what had happened.
Iroala explained through an interpreter that Fonseca-Rivera was en route to Massachusetts when he told Iroala that a vehicle in front of him was driving erratically, speeding up and then slowing down. Fonseca-Rivera was trying to gauge the distance he needed to pass the vehicle.
“Iroala heard what appeared to be Fonseca-Rivera hitting the ‘zipper’ on the roadway. This was clarified to be the rumble strip,” the affidavit states. “When Fonseca-Rivera hit the rumble strip, Iroala noted Fonseca-Rivera appeared to be laughing (as if he did not mean to hit the strip).”
Iroala said he then heard what he described as a “deep inhale,” and Fonseca-Rivera grew quiet. He also heard a sound consistent with someone dropping a cellphone.
“Iroala called to Fonseca-Rivera by saying, ‘Hello, hello, hello,’” the detective sergeant wrote. “After not receiving a response, Iroala ended the phone call with him and assumed Fonseca-Rivera lost service.”
He tried to call his friend back, but Fonseca-Rivera never answered the phone.
Vermont troopers went to Piri’s home the day after the shooting and conducted interviews with him and his wife. Piri told the detectives that he had gone to his family’s Londonderry home on Halloween to see about a broken well pump. His wife and children remained in Connecticut to go trick-or-treating.
Piri explained that the ongoing pump problems ended up costing more than he anticipated, and on Nov. 1, he was late leaving for his Connecticut home. In Vermont, he was forced to take a detour that put him out of his way on Route 103 near Chester and the scene where Fonseca-Rivera was slain.
In Chester, Piri said he pulled into a carwash, where the machine would not accept his credit card.
According to the affidavit, Piri told detectives it was a “(expletive) day that he was having” as he left the carwash with a dirty truck.
Read the affidavit for Dr. Jozsef Piri’s arrest below.
Piri made no mention of Fonseca-Rivera or the produce truck, and he said he arrived at his West Simsbury home around 4:30 p.m.
The troopers told him they were conducting a death investigation and asked if he had seen the news out of Vermont, the affidavit states. He said he had not and asked no questions about the death investigation.
The investigation into Fonseca-Rivera’s murder continued, and Piri was once again interviewed on Feb. 23, 2020. At that time, a search warrant was executed at his Vermont home, where he kept several firearms.
In his second interview, Piri’s description of the day of the shooting changed somewhat. He denied having said he was having a “(expletive) day” and said his trip home to Connecticut had been fine.
When asked about his guns, Piri said he kept his weapons in Vermont because of the stricter gun laws in Connecticut. He denied carrying weapons interstate because he does not have a concealed carry permit in Massachusetts and feared a traffic stop with a gun, Kinney wrote.
“I noted during the interview, Piri’s hands were shaking drastically,” the detective sergeant wrote. “During the interview, Piri stated he had a tremor in his hands and that was the reason his hands were shaking.”
Piri’s Tundra was seized as part of the search. As it was searched, crime scene technicians found a magnetic holster on the driver’s side of the center console.
According to Kinney, the holster holds a weapon in place by its metal slide and “ultimately makes the firearm readily available and easily accessible to the driver.”
Techs also noted that the rear window of the truck’s cab was a “power vertical sliding” window. A button on the driver’s console allows the driver to open the rear window from the driver’s seat.
“The operation of the window did not prohibit the operator from lowering the window while the vehicle was in motion,” the document states.
Investigators seized three guns from Piri’s home, including two 9mm handguns. One of the guns, a Walther PPS, was missing its slide and barrel.
The slide and barrel of a weapon are needed to conduct ballistics testing in shooting investigations, the affidavit states.
Vermont investigators, with assistance from Connecticut state troopers, also searched the Piri home there. On the way, Piri rode with detectives because his truck had been seized during the search.
When traffic became congested, “it was noted by investigators … Piri becoming physically upset at the way other drivers were operating their vehicles around the police vehicle,” Kinney noted.
At the Connecticut home, two more Walther 9mm handguns were seized. When ballistics testing was done on the weapons, one of the guns exhibited the same “general rifling class characteristics” of the bullet that killed Fonseca-Rivera.
There were not sufficient markings on the bullet, however, to prove it was fired from the weapon.
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A search of Piri’s cellphone records was more damning. The data showed that on the day of the shooting, Piri conducted several searches for news out of Vermont — specifically news from Rockingham and Chester.
The searches began nearly an hour before Fonseca-Rivera’s body was found, the affidavit states.
In addition, Google records showed that someone using Piri’s account had gone in two days after the homicide and deleted his location history for the day of the shooting.
“According to Google, this was the only time Piri had ever deleted his location history,” the detective wrote.
WCAX and The Associated Press reported that prosecutors and Piri’s defense team on Monday negotiated the conditions under which Piri could be granted bail. The doctor must relinquish his passport and any firearms he possesses to the Vermont State Police. According to the AP, he must also follow a strict curfew once he goes home to Florida.
His bail would then be set at $250,000.
“Taking his history, his lack of a criminal record, I think ultimately he would have been released,” Adam Hescock, another of Piri’s defense attorneys, told WCAX. “I think the state agreeing to it … I give them credit for not trying to hold him longer and realizing that he’s a person that should be released by agreement.”
Ted Katsiroubas, the CEO of the family-owned Katsiroubas Produce, released a statement earlier this month on Piri’s arrest.
“We are pleased that a suspect has been identified two years after the horrific killing of Roberto, a good man just doing his job driving down the highway in Rockingham, Vermont,” Katsiroubas said, according to Boston 25 News. “We are gratified that Vermont State Police stayed on this difficult investigation. We hope that justice may be done for Roberto, and that it may bring his family some peace.”
Michel told the news station that she remembers Fonseca-Rivera as a kind neighbor.
“During the snow season, he would clean out our parking for us. He would go above and beyond,” Michel said. “It was a big loss.”
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