MIRAMAR -- Broward Sheriff's deputy Arthur Reeves thought he was going to die when a shaky, masked carjacker held a weapon to his head in a predawn holdup Friday on the side of Florida's Turnpike.
Reeves, 32, thought maybe the red and blue lights that flashed in the mirrors of his Chevrolet Suburban -- legally used only by police and firefighters in Florida -- meant Florida Highway Patrol was attempting to slow him down on his way home to Miramar.
Not until he stopped his SUV and the robbers approached from a red Volvo sedan did he realize the danger he faced.
"This could have happened to anybody," Broward Sheriff's Robbery Detective Mark Copley said.
If a trained deputy could fall for the ruse, what should a civilian do to avoid the carjackers' trick that Hollywood police say was also used in their city Tuesday and could happen again soon, as such incidents often occur in spurts?
"You have to use a lot of common sense," Copley said Friday.
If an unmarked car is flashing red and blue lights and attempting to get you to stop or to move to the side of the road, but you aren't speeding or violating other traffic laws, keep driving, authorities say.
"If it's late at night and a dark area, you want to proceed to a well-lit area where there are a lot of people around," Copley said. "If you can't and you have any suspicions whatsoever, you can call 911 [to verify there is an active traffic stop with your car]."
Copley said it is important to get to an area that is congested. But it's also important not to flee and prompt a long police chase.
"These guys don't want to have any confrontation," Copley said about carjackers. He called such incidents "very rare. Especially [when it happens] to one of our officers."
The three armed carjacking suspects were unfortunate. Though they got away with the deputy's SUV, his uniform, duty belt and a weapon in the heist, they randomly chose the wrong victim. Now two of Broward County's largest law enforcement agencies are working together to find them.
Copley called it "fairly unlucky" for the carjackers that a deputy was victimized.
Another reason the suspects have annoyed the cops: They impersonated officers by using red and blue lights to pull over the deputy. Three unknown suspects used the same method to rob two victims in Hollywood.
It's not illegal to buy such lights, but it is a misdemeanor offense in Florida for civilians to use them in cars or to try to make a traffic stop. It's a felony offense to impersonate a police officer or commit a carjacking.
Chris Dallmann says his company, Extreme Tactical Dynamics, a law enforcement and fire equipment dealer in Jupiter, demands proper purchase orders from agencies or identity cards and badges from buyers of emergency lights.
"If an individual came in and tried to buy red and blue lights, we would not sell them to them," Dallmann said of his business that sells nationally to police and fire agencies and the federal government.
He said the "several billion dollar" industry tries to prevent misuse of its products, but says customer screening can go only so far, because white light strips can be bought at flea markets or online and customized to appear as authentic cop lights.
"It's the same situation as the gun marketplace," Dallmann said. "It's not the person that buys them necessarily, it's the person that buys them and wants to do bad things with them."
Copley said Reeves, a detention deputy at the Broward County main jail, was able to talk his way out of being killed and let the carjackers have what they wanted. Reeves went to a turnpike service area near the University Drive exit to call for help.
"Your car is not worth your life," former Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti said about such situations. "Give it up."
Being sought is the deputy's 2011 black Chevrolet Suburban with a Florida license plate ATL J72, as well as a red Volvo that is believed to be a 2007 S60 sedan, Florida tag 411 XZG.
That car was stolen Tuesday during a 2 a.m. carjacking that happened in Hollywood on South Park Road north of a Sunoco gas station at 3325 Pembroke Road, Hollywood Police Sgt. Pablo Vanegas said.
That's when three men, wearing all black clothing and ski masks while traveling in a red Nissan Altima, followed the Volvo and its two male victims, who are from Miami.
The Nissan flashed red and blue lights that hung from the sun visors to stop the Volvo, then forced the victims from their car using handguns with flashlights attached. One of the men carried a long gun, according to a Hollywood police incident report.
Those victims were unharmed but also were robbed of their wallets, which contained driver's licenses and other personal identification, Hollywood police said.
The Volvo has a red sticker on the right rear bumper that says "Blood of Jesus" and a blue left mirror.
The Broward Sheriff's Office asks anyone with information to call Copley at 954-321-4270 or Broward Crime Stoppers, anonymously, at 954-493-TIPS (8477).
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