Forbidden Fruit

The radio was buzzing, voices yelling through the static. "He won't stop, he won't stop!" someone shouted. "He's trying to run me off the road!" Keith Mitchell managed to pull alongside the white GMC but couldn't get them to stop. Then Dorsey was off the road, the front of his truck hung up on a rock on the shoulder. The Mitchells kept following. As the chase approached busy Krome Avenue, it appeared the growers might have the pickup pinned in. Several cars were waiting at the three-way intersection. But at the last instant, the getaway truck wheeled to the left, spun out momentarily in the dirt at the northwest corner of the intersection, then shot out across the southbound lane of Krome and headed north. A "blat, blat" rang out, followed by the sound of pellets hitting the pickup's steel skin.

A holiday spent picking mangoes. That's what the two men, pals for about three years, had in mind when they flouted Danny Donovan's house arrest and Mike Lemus's probation and took a spin down to South Dade in Lemus's white GMC. A few hours of picking, a few hundred dollars worth of fruit for their efforts.

Donovan, who lived with his mother and grandmother in Spring Garden, had always been close to his brothers Billy and Joe, and the three grew even more so after their father was killed in an accident at his ironworking shop. At first the Donovan brothers tried to make the business work without their father, but they were unsuccessful.

"Danny was 30 but he had the mind of a fifteen-year-old, like a child," observes Manny Sanchez, who owns Manny's Marine Service. "That's the way he was. He would make me chicken soup at home and bring it to me." Sanchez says Donovan was always more than willing to give away what little he had, rather than keep it for himself. Whenever he went fishing, family and friends ate what he brought home. When his friends needed help moving, or working on their boats, Donovan helped without asking for anything in return. "If I had work around here that needed to be done, he always wanted to help," says Sanchez. "A good kid. Very noble, really."

Donovan's was a familiar face along the Miami River. One of his favorite hangouts was the Alibi Lounge in the Holiday Inn on NW 12th Avenue, where he went for the free nightly happy-hour spread. "He wasn't much of a drinker," Sanchez says. "Maybe a beer or two, but we went for the food." Donovan also frequented Tobacco Road on South Miami Avenue. At the same time, he tended to get into trouble with the law, problems his friends blame on "hanging out with the wrong crowd."

Four months before Memorial Day, Donovan had begun working as a handyman at Long's Motorcycle Sales, a small shop across the Miami River from his mother's house. He needed a job as part of terms of his house arrest for three grand-theft convictions, and wasn't allowed to drive because his license had been suspended. "Danny was a real sweetheart, but he was someone with no direction in life, no road to follow," says Theodora Long, whose husband John owns the shop. "But he was really trying. He would plead with John, `You have to keep me out of trouble.' So John would call him if he didn't come to work in the morning and say, `Danny, are you coming to work?' and Danny would show up."

The day after Memorial Day, when Danny Donovan didn't show up for work, John Long dialed the number of his mother's house. Lorraine Donovan cried the news into the phone.

"It was just terrible," Mike Lemus recalls. "The [J.R. Brooks employees] gave me some paper towels and I squeezed them in to try to stop the bleeding. Danny was saying, `Get some water, Mikey. Put some water on my head, my head's real hot.' Then he tells me, `Take me to the hospital, Mikey.' I said, `I can't, Danny, these guys won't let me.'"

When police arrived on the scene, just north of the Benjamina Nursery, they found eight Brooks trucks, plus the one owned by Fred Rutzke. Some of the pickups had been involved in the chase, some had arrived later. The grower's employees were milling around, talking to one another. Emergency medical personnel airlifted Danny Donovan to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where doctors rushed him into surgery in an attempt to remove a hunk of lead lodged four inches behind what had been his right eye.

Metro Police Det. Margie Grossman, who at the time was assigned to the agricultural patrol unit, read the 31-year-old Lemus his rights and took his statement in the back seat of a patrol car. Lemus told Grossman that he and Donovan had been picking mangoes that were hanging over a fence, when they were confronted by a grower. They took off. During the chase that ensued, two different Brooks employees in two different trucks pointed shotguns at the fleeing pair. Lemus told the detective it was impossible for him to identify the shooter because he was too busy driving. But he pointed out Murray Bass, who at the time was sitting in the back seat of another police car, as one of the men who leveled a shotgun at them.

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