Former Miss Venezuela, partner shot dead

Posted at 01/08/14 8:47 AM

Miss Venezuela Monica Spear smiles after winning the title in Caracas in this file picture. Photo by Howard Yanes, Reuters

CARACAS - A former Miss Venezuela and her British-born partner were shot dead while their five-year-old daughter was wounded during a suspected roadside robbery that shocked the nation, authorities said Tuesday.

Monica Spear, a 29-year-old soap opera star, and Thomas Henry Berry, 39, were killed after their car broke down on a highway in northwestern Venezuela late Monday, prosecutors said in statement.

Their daughter, Maya Berry Spear, was wounded in the right leg but stable after receiving medical treatment in an assault that put a spotlight on the country's soaring murder rate.

Five people have been detained and are being interrogated in connection with the crime, Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez said after a televised meeting with President Nicolas Maduro.

"We presume it was a robbery ... but we are in the middle of an investigation," Rodriguez said.

The family was attacked by five assailants just as a tow truck had finished lifting the car, which had broken down on the highway between Puerto Cabello and Valencia in the state of Carabobo.

The terrified mother, father and child locked themselves in the car but "the criminals fired multiple shots at the vehicle," Serralta said.

Authorities are interrogating the tow truck's two operators. Investigators impounded the couple's car for further analysis.

Spear, who was a quarter-finalist in the 2005 Miss Universe contest, appeared in the Miami-based Telemundo series "Pasion Prohibida' ("Forbidden Passion") and "Flor Salvaje" ("Savage Flower").

The dark-haired actress, who lived in the United States, was vacationing in her native Venezuela at the time of her death. She had posted videos of the countryside and herself horse riding on Instagram in the last couple of days.

Her husband was born in Britain but has Venezuelan citizenship.

"This is a massacre," said Maduro, who vowed to curb the country's runaway violence during his presidential campaign last year.

"This violence is a sickness that we have." he said from the Miraflores presidential palace.

Maduro called mayors and governors to a meeting on Wednesday to coordinate actions against crime.

Venezuela has one of the world's highest murder rates, with 79 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013, according to the non-profit Venezuelan Observatory of Violence.

The interior ministry, however, gave a lower murder rate of 39 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who refused to concede defeat to Maduro in presidential elections last year, reacted to the killing by calling on the socialist leader to put aside "deep differences and unite against the lack of security, as one bloc."

The beauty queen's killing shocked fellow artists in this Caribbean country that is passionate about soap operas and the Miss Universe contenders it regularly produces.

Venezuelan actress Gaby Espino, who lives in Miami and stars in the Telemundo telenovela "Santa Diabla," said she would never return to her home country.

"This is the day-to-day life in our country. We have all left Venezuela, fleeing in fear, terrified because this is the reality of our country. And today it happened to Monica," Espino told Telemundo.

"I love my country, but I won't set another foot in Venezuela," she said.

Venezuelan telenovela director Leonardo Padron said he was "absolutely saddened, horrified, speechless, over the murder of my dear Monica Spear! My God!"

Telemundo, a leading Spanish-language network in the United States, said in a statement that it was "deeply shocked and saddened by the horrible crime that hit our dear actress Monica Spear and her family."

Jencarlos Canela, Spear's American co-star and love interest in "Pasion Prohibida," expressed grief of Twitter, writing: "I am speechless. I will miss you my friend @MonicaSpear."

Addressing Spear's daughter, he added: "My pretty, beautiful Maya, I love you. You are not alone!"

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