By Michael E. Miller
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By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
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By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
A gang of gas can-wielding, ATV-riding arsonists has been terrorizing a simple farming community, and the authorities have done little to curb the bandits. In what he describes as "the Old West," retired contractor George A. Burns, age 62, who together with his wife Ruth Roth, age 62, manages a five-acre farm, has complained to Miami-Dade Agricultural Patrol countless times about the actions of these vandals. The Ag Patrol, as it is known to the locals, is responsible for policing the expanse of unincorporated farm land and deals mostly with vandalism, animal cruelty, and farm equipment thefts.
According to Burns, 40 to 50 Bombardier-busting scofflaws regularly trespass on the rural land bordering his property off 149th Avenue and SW 396th Street on their way to a well-known off-roading area known as The Hump. Once there, the marauders are responsible for all manner of destruction. Armed with gas cans, they've set fires to the land, causing the smoke to drift onto the Burns's property, which in turn destroyed thousands of bees the couple was farming.
"I seen 'em riding around pumping a gas can over their heads and laughing all the way. I yell at them to stop, but they don't listen. They don't care," said Roth.
The fire was extinguished before it reached the couple's property, but they still felt the burn.
"We had over 3000 bees, and they smoked them away. They ain't coming back. I tell you it's criminal what these people are doing. If I could, I'd be the sheriff and build a fire and stick them on it; see how much fun they think it was then. I'd kill them bastards," drawled Burns. "These guys are a good rash in the crack. I tell you someone is going to get killed out here. I've seen them setting off explosives, carelessly firing off guns. You name it, they've done it."
Another rancher named Antonio Vieyra has suffered the wrath of the vandals as well. Not more than three weeks ago the nefarious gang allegedly stole a trailer valued at $2000. Apparently the thieves managed to tear apart a chain securing the trailer and then took off with it in tow.
"It has to be them; there's no one else. They wait till the weekend when there's no one around and they come onto the property with their vehicles and do what they please," said Vieyra as he continued in Spanish: "That wasn't the only time they've done this. On other occasions they've stolen a $600 water pump, tractor batteries, or whatever else they could carry."
Those incidents are minor compared to what happened a few years back to Richard Borek, one of the owners of Homestead Pole Bean Cooperative. Borek, whose family owns 700 acres of farmland, was robbed of an $85,000 John Deere tractor. When police finally found the vehicle, it had been left in a muddy ditch with the engine running and the windows busted out.
"It only had about 50 hours of use, and these kids took it out into the woods and destroyed it. It was buried up to its belly in mud. They left it on, so it was slinging mud for God knows how long. There was mud in the transmission, in the engine, everywhere," said Borek.
The farmers are in agreement that this type of thing has been going on for years, and as summer creeps along, it only gets worse. "They dump pickup trucks in canals, they trespass, and the police don't do nothing about it. Once in a while they'll arrest some of them on drug charges or whatever small infraction, but they don't do nothing when they terrorize the farmers," said Burns.
The Ag Patrol insists these crimes are bound to happen, and they are doing the best they can to curb the vandals. "We're in the process of putting together a task force and that should help," said Sgt. William Brockmeyer of the Agricultural Patrol.