Media Day of the Dead

“We deal with people on the worst days of their lives”

Media Day of the Dead
Filed under: Flotsam

"My promise is to show people what they want to see, not what they don't want to see."

So began Larry Cameron's introduction to media day at the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Department, where local reporters got a two-and-a-half-hour orientation on the art of the autopsy.

The department is one of the nation's largest. Seeing an average of eight cadavers a day, the staff scrutinizes the victims of about 420 accidents, 300 suicides, and 200-plus homicides each year.

Along with his colleagues, Cameron, the department's director of operations, cleared up some confusion: Medical examiners are doctors, not coroners; the latter can be tow truck drivers or bartenders elected to office. And they addressed a myth they like to call "the CSI effect" -- the notion that a medical examiner can merely lift the white sheet, glance at a tweezed hair under a microscope, and declare the cause of death. Reality is more complicated.

The facilities include a photography lab and a shooting range equipped with fast-action cameras for ballistics analysis. An enormous laboratory employs thirteen workers, many with PhDs. But the highlight of the tour, inevitably, was the morgue. (Cameron invited the queasy to wait outside.) In an icy room with linoleum flooring, fluorescent lighting, and stainless-steel tables, two cadavers were being autopsied. A third lay on a gurney, awaiting its turn. Glass jars held three brains suspended in a clear fluid.

The facility's scientists perform toxicology reports for the FBI, the FDA, and occasionally foreign governments like that of the Bahamas. Autopsy reports of car crash victims are forwarded to the William Lehman Injury Research Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where engineers and car safety experts analyze them.

At the end of the day, however, the medical examiners have one overriding priority, seen in the very design of the facility, which separates mourning and science in different buildings. "We deal with people on the worst days of their lives, and we see a lot of tragedy," said chief medical examiner Dr. Bruce Hyma. "We try to handle remains with as much dignity as possible." -- Emily Witt

Slinging Mud in the Land of Sand
Filed under: News

In Miami Beach, when you can't find something dirty to say about political candidates, you do the next best thing: You attack the people supporting them. Last week Beach resident Harvey Burstein sent out a mass e-mail message warning voters to stay clear of Linda Grosz, one of five candidates running for the commission seat being vacated by mayoral hopeful Matti Bower.

Burstein, who backs Frank Kruszewski, says Grosz can't be trusted because one of her fundraisers is Eric "Ric" Sisser, a political consultant and lobbyist arrested in 2003 on four felony cocaine possession charges. Burstein attached portions of two Associated Press articles documenting Sisser's bust and highlighted how he collected millions of dollars lobbying for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, raised money for board members' political campaigns, and counseled the late Pat Tornillo, the corrupt former teachers union boss. "Do we need this type of element to be brought into our community?" Burstein railed. "The answer is no."

Of course Burstein neglected to include in his e-mail that the charges against Sisser were dropped after he successfully completed a pretrial drug intervention program and that he has been sober for more than three years. When New Timescontacted Burstein, he denied he was playing up Sisser's involvement with narcotics. But he questioned whether Grosz can remain independent of Sisser's influence. "I can't say that is going to happen for a fact, but it does concern me," he said.

At a fundraiser held at the Shore Club's Redroom last week, Grosz and Sisser denounced Burstein's smear tactics. "I made a mistake and I am sorry for what I did," said Sisser, noting he does not lobby in Miami Beach.

Grosz added, "This kind of negative campaigning casts a dark shadow over the political process. Everybody deserves the benefit of the doubt and a second chance, including Ric, who has been a very dear friend." -- Francisco Alvarado

Hoods in Mailmen's Clothing
Filed under: News

That's no mailman. That's some hoodlum in a smoke-spewing car, driving down the wrong side of the street -- a new nonpostal employee shoving letters into your mailbox.

The United States Postal Service has been quietly substituting contractors for career-track, federally employed letter carriers. Although the practice has been going on for decades in rural areas, the National Association of Letter Carriers is protesting its growth in cities and towns. NALC spokesperson Tammy Cadwell says that, since 2002, there has been a 34 percent increase in what is known as the Contract Delivery Service.

"It could be the demise of the postal service!" says Don McMahon, who was picketing, along with about 100 other blue-uniformed mailpeople, in Sunrise last Wednesday.

Postal service spokesperson Debra Fetterly says contractors serve only 9300 delivery points from Pompano to Key West, compared with two million served by regular letter carriers (none of whom are being laid off) in the same area. She also says contract workers are required to pass the same tests as regular letter carriers: criminal history reviews, fingerprinting, a driving background check, and, beginning July 31, drug screening.

The disgruntled mailmen know what this is really all about. "The government doesn't want to pay middle-class Americans a living wage," said one man who asked not to be named.

If there's any satisfaction to be found, it might arrive in Washington (zip code 20510), where Congress may soon consider the Mail Delivery Protection Act of 2007. Don't hold your breath. -- Deirdra Funcheon

Verbatim
"While I agree that the U.S. health care system is far from perfect just like any other health care system the problem with Michael Moore's film [Sicko] is that of integrity, or lack thereof. If Moore takes such an intense creative license with the truth about Cuba's health care, then the rest of his arguments must be suspect as well." -- Val Prieto on Riptide 2.0

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