2 men identified as bodies found in burnt-out SUV in Bonita Springs; person of interest named

Israel Ponce, homicide victim in Bonita Springs.

Israel Ponce, homicide victim in Bonita Springs.

Daniel Leonor, homicide victim in Bonita Springs.

Daniel Leonor, homicide victim in Bonita Springs.

Noe Alaniz

Noe Alaniz

RAW FOOTAGE: Death investigation east of Bonita Springs

Lee County Sheriff's Office investigates two bodies ...

— Lee detectives on Monday released the names of two men found slain off a rural road near Bonita Springs, and they located a ‘person of interest’ in the case.

The bodies of Daniel Leonor, 24, of San Carlos Park, and Israel Ponce, 20, of Fort Myers, were found inside a burning SUV off Harrell Avenue, north of Bonita Beach Road, Aug. 1. Detectives have not released the cause of their deaths, but a nearby property owner reported hearing gunshots before discovering the blaze.

Also on Monday, detectives located a Lehigh Acres man for questioning in the case. Noe Alaniz, 35, was deemed a ‘person of interest’ who may have information relevant to the case.

The Sheriff’s Office was still searching for Leonor’s car, a 2000 Honda Civic with license plate 084-YLP.

Few details have emerged from the case since discovery of the bodies, made on a Sunday night around 6:05 p.m. After autopsies of the victims were completed last week, the Sheriff’s Office remained tight-lipped about the findings.

Local traces of the three men are faint, as each appeared to move frequently, within Lee County or elsewhere.

Nayely Soto, 13, said Ponce briefly lived next door to her family, with his sister and her husband, at an apartment complex on Rose Avenue in Fort Myers. He was there for only two or three months, she said, but he was friendly. She believed he worked in construction.

“We considered him a friend,” she said.

Leonor sometimes hung out at the apartment with Ponce, Nayely recalled, but the family didn’t know him as well. She remembered Ponce and Leonor kicking a soccer ball in the apartment complex parking lot.

Ponce, his sister and his brother-in-law recently moved out of the apartment, Nayely said. Her family was surprised to hear of his death, and they said they didn’t believe he would be caught up in anything dangerous.

“We never had any problems with him,” she said.

Leonor’s latest address was a duplex on Matanzas Road in San Carlos Park, although records suggest he is from Homestead.

He has two closed misdemeanor cases out of the Miami-Dade Circuit and no cases in Lee. Ponce has four closed cases in Lee County, none of them felonies.

Alaniz has lived in Lehigh Acres, but, like Leonor, he appears to come from the Homestead area, with previous addresses tying him to Florida City.

He has a lengthy criminal record in the Miami-Dade Circuit, with four prior felony convictions since 1991, on charges that include burglary, aggravated battery and cocaine possession.

A 2009 attack on a Lehigh Acres restaurant owner gave Alaniz his first brush with the Lee County justice system. Deputies say he struck the owner of Peter’s Sports Bar, Peter Schantz, in the face with a glass mug when Schantz tried to take a pitcher of beer from Alaniz’s group at 2 a.m.

Alaniz was charged with one count each of felony and misdemeanor battery. He ultimately pleaded to the latter charge, serving 364 days in the Lee County Jail.

Anyone with information about the deaths of Leonor and Ponce is asked to call the Lee County Sheriff’s Office at 239-477-1000; Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers at 1-800-780-8477; or the State Fire Marshal’s Office, at 1-800-662-7766.

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