Unlucky Number

A Miami Artist becomes an accidental witness to manslaughter.


Unlucky Number

A Miami Artist becomes an accidental witness to manslaughter.

Steven Gagnon's Border Cruiser
Steven Gagnon's Border Cruiser

By Carlos Suarez De Jesus

Last year, Miami Beach artist Steven Gagnon created a video installation on wheels, about the plight of illegal aliens, which patrolled local streets during Art Basel and earned a trip to Houston's ArtCar Museum this past March. Gagnon's Border Cruiser projected on the exterior of its rear windows a video in which a Brazilian man related his ordeal of entering the United States illegally. On the eve of the Super Tuesday primaries, Gagnon's vehicle brought a crew from the Al Jazeera English network to a screech in Little Havana, where a befuddled TV reporter filmed crowd responses to the rambling opus ("Border Patrol in Little Havana?" February 14).

In Houston, Border Cruiser was displayed as part of the town's ArtCar Museum group show at the 12th International Fotofest 2008 Biennial, a citywide exhibition held there every two years. After the show closed April 27, ArtCar Museum curator Tom Jones paid to have Gagnon fly back to Houston to participate in the city's 21st annual Art Car Parade, billed as the largest display of rolling art in the world, on May 10. During the event, Jones drove Swamp Mutha, a 1982 Chevrolet Monte Carlo tricked out with varnished armadillos, crawfish, ducks, rabbits, and alligator skulls. It was one of nearly 300 eye-popping vehicles in the popular parade.

"People from all backgrounds participate," Gagnon says. "One of the wilder rides was created by scientists at the University of Houston who covered a boxy Volvo with those kitschy singing bass plaques that operated in unison when spectators got close. It was really sophisticated."

Traditionally, on the evening following the parade, art car enthusiasts string lights on their vehicles for a less formal "Illuminated Cruise" through town, Gagnon explains. After the night cruise concluded, around 1:45 a.m., Gagnon joined Jones and artist Dion Laurent at the ArtCar Museum, where they sat on a curb reflecting on the day's success. About 2 a.m., as the trio shot the breeze, a speeding white Pontiac GT driven by a 23-year-old male, identified as Dustin Allen Poe, jumped the railroad tracks in front of the museum and careened into a parked Toyota Camry only 50 feet from the men.

"Just a minute before, Dion had asked Tom what would happen to the oddly parked car," Gagnon relates. "Tom responded, 'It will get ticketed or probably hit.'" Moments later, to their horror, the Camry was sent "hurtling like a billiard ball" by the alleged drunk driver, pinning Jones and Gagnon and sending Laurent flying 15 feet into a fence. Gagnon and Laurent escaped with minor bruises and contusions. Paramedics took the 51-year-old Jones to the hospital, where he died a few hours later of massive internal injuries.

Poe was arrested at the scene — his second DUI offense — and charged with manslaughter. Gagnon stayed in Houston for the funeral and memorial services, driving home last week along I-10 in his Border Cruiser while trying to make sense of the tragedy.

"It was weird — the cars are all numbered during the parade, and Tom's number was 13. Right now I'm back in my studio working and figuring things out. Art is not just something I do, but part of my life," Gagnon says. "But I was pinned directly under Tom when that car hit us, and I just can't help wonder about fate."


Change You Won't Believe In

A South Floridian's unlikely bid makes the ballot.

By Thomas Francis

Barack stumped in the Sunshine State last month, and Hillary is out, but the presidential campaign of South Florida's own Ryan Lipner is just getting warmed up.

"I'm huffing and puffing, full steam ahead," Lipner says of his bid for the White House. The Tamarac native — who, Riptide can safely say, is "certifiable" — has miraculously qualified to be on the ballot in Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, and California. These are the states with the cheapest, simplest standards for presidential candidacy — but still.

"I thought about running against John Kerry in 2004," says Lipner, but he was only 20 years old then. Now 24, he feels more seasoned. You say he doesn't meet the constitutional requirement of being 35 years old? No sweat. He'll get an amendment.

Lipner says he has cleared up some of his past legal troubles, which began at age 16, when he launched a greeting-card store with pirated Hallmark merchandise. He owns the distinction of being one of the state's only "vexatious litigators," the result of his having filed 158 lawsuits during six weeks in 2003. That was just a youthful manic episode, Lipner says. It happened because he wasn't taking medication for bipolar disorder. The presidential bid, he's quick to say, is absolutely not a manifestation of mental illness — though his court-ordered counselor wasn't convinced.

"Last week, when I told my psychologist at Henderson [Mental Health Center] that I'm still running for president, he had me Baker Acted," Lipner says. (This means to be forcibly taken to a mental hospital for observation.)

Lipner was released four days later. "Mental illness is talking about things that are not reality," Lipner argues. "But if you're actually running for president, that's not mental illness."

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