COLUMBIA (WACH) -- Officials are questioning why a violent criminal was on the streets able to commit several robberies and a murder earlier this week.
Investigators say Mario Stokes robbed multiple businesses at gunpoint, carjacked a woman, and murdered a Forest Acres restaurant owner Tuesday night before committing suicide in front of police.
Stokes has a long criminal record and officials are concerned why he was out from behind bars and on the streets."Here TMs another situation where a convicted felon, a person with a long criminal record, has been released and revictimized our community," says Columbia police chief Randy Scott. "We have lost an individual in Steve Kim that is very important to our community," said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.
Stokes started the lengthy crime spree in the Capital Heights Complex around 7:30 p.m. when he robbed a woman at gunpoint and stole her SUV according to police. They say Stokes then made his way to the Family Dollar on Leesburg Road where he robbed and assaulted employees. Shortly after, police say Stokes robbed the China Palace on South Beltline Blvd.
Around 9:30 p.m. he continued his robbery spree holding up Dino's Restaurant on Decker Blvd. where he shot and killed owner Steve Kim in front of a customer.Previous Coverage Police chase ends when suspect shoots himself Midlands Most Wanted (January 2008)
Investigators say after the crime spree Stokes pulled into the Walgreens on Garners Ferry Road and came to a stop in the parking lot. Officers called out to the suspect, but he did not respond to commands. Officers approached the vehicle and found the suspect with a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Wednesday, investigators discovered the same gun, which was stolen from a vehicle parked at the airport, was used in both shootings. The gun was previously reported stolen.
The Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services says Stokes served his time and was released. Spokesman Pete O'Boyle says Stokes was not under any state supervision at the time of recent rash of crimes.
"Our job in law enforcement is to identify these individuals who are career criminals, who are going to go out here and commit crimes," adds Lott. "Our job is to identify them, make good cases on them, where the solicitors office can prosecute them, very quickly and effectively."
WACH Fox News spoke to restaurant owner Steve Kim in 2008 about a murder that occurred two years before at the business next to Dino's. Kim was quoted saying, "life is very important so they try to help us so this doesn't happen next time again," when talking about the police's search for that suspect. Read the full story here.
A memorial service for Kim will be held at the Carolina Korean Presbyterian Church on Barbara Drive Sunday at 7 p.m. A funeral will take place at Greenlawn Memorial on Leesburg Road at noon the following day. After that, Kim will be buried at Fort Jackson.
With overcrowding in jails and prisons, along with budget cuts, what is being done to help see that released violent criminals won't re-offend? WACH Fox News is working to find that answer today. Leave a comment to give us your take on prison overcrowding and the release of violent criminals.