By Zachary Fagenson
MIAMI (Reuters) - A graffiti artist who went by the nickname "Demz" died after being hit by a police car during a chase amid the height of Miami's annual Art Week, according to his mother.
“He died doing what he loved,” Nannette Gutierrez wrote on Instagram alongside pictures of her son's name spray-painted in bright blue bubble letters.
Delbert Rodriguez Gutierrez, 21, who died late Tuesday, had been hit by the police car on Friday night after officers spotted him spray-painting the side of a building in Wynwood, a hip Miami neighborhood popular with street artists, police said.
Rodriguez is the second street artist to die in the Miami area in the past 16 months. Israel Hernandez-Llach, 18, died in August last year after being struck by a police Taser gun when he was cornered by officers who spotted him spray-painting a building in Miami Beach.
The latest incident came at the peak of Miami’s annual Art Week, which hosts nearly two dozen fairs including Art Basel Miami Beach, among the world’s most prominent contemporary art events.
In a statement Miami Police Department said officers observed Rodriguez "committing an act of vandalism by spray painting the façade of a business storefront not related to Art Basel."
A chase ensued and Rodriguez was hit when a police car turned a corner and in the darkness failed to see him crouching near the sidewalk, according to the police statement. "The subject either fell or was attempting to hide the spray cans under a nearby car," the statement said.
Evidence indicated that the police car was traveling less than 15 miles per hour at the point of impact, it said.
Wynwood is a top attraction with massive murals painted by international celebrities like Shepard Fairy and Ron English along with a cornucopia of works by independent artists.
It also was the scene of back-to-back nights of protests over police violence after grand juries refused to indict officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City.
Protesters also called for justice in Hernandez-Llach’s case. The family has sued both the Miami Beach Police Department and the officer who tased him, and the case is being reviewed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
(Editing By David Adams and Bill Trott)