The Dead Among Us

One week of living and dying in Miami-Dade.

Between September and November last year, an anomaly occurred in Miami. For 38 days straight, no one was murdered within city limits. It was one of those rare occurrences that had newspapers around the state buzzing. But while the Magic City enjoyed a small respite from people getting killed, the rest of Miami-Dade was as deadly as ever. In fact, homicides in unincorporated areas of the county rose significantly in 2008. There were 97 people murdered last year compared to 79 in 2007, a 23 percent increase. This year, death has slowed down a bit, but not by much. As of April 3, the medical examiner's office has tagged 58 murder victims, compared to 69 for the same period in 2008.

With so much death around us, New Times embarked on a mission to find out who passed away during one of the deadliest weeks so far this year, February 23 through March 1. As usual, there were demises that made headlines. Former SunPost columnist and Miami Beach mayoral chief of staff A.C. Weinstein died alone in his art deco South Beach apartment February 23. Erstwhile Florida Grand Opera tenor Pablo Josue Amador shocked his Perrine neighborhood February 25 when he killed his 45-year-old wife and their two teenage daughters and then turned the gun on himself. The murder-suicide was the fifth in Miami-Dade since October last year. And finally, there was Michael Davis, a drifter who used multiple aliases and was wanted for murdering a teenage boy in South Beach when police gunned him down in the courtyard of a North Miami apartment building.

While those deaths captured public attention, even if for only a moment, there were dozens more that week that went largely unnoticed. A 73-year-old widower with dementia and Alzheimer's wandered away from a rest home in West Miami and wound up in a canal; his brother-in-law spotted his floating corpse. A 64-year-old who liked his booze died naked inside the bathtub of his dilapidated trailer in Homestead; his body rotted for two days before police found it. A 38-year-old day laborer, depressed about being unemployed and his pending divorce, shot himself in the mouth as he sat on the living room couch in his West Miami apartment; his niece discovered him the next morning.

Ghislene Richmond says her son Markey Saintil Jr. (left) enjoyed downloading music and playing basketball with his cousins.
Courtesy of the Saintil family
Ghislene Richmond says her son Markey Saintil Jr. (left) enjoyed downloading music and playing basketball with his cousins.

If you've lived in Miami for any period of time, it's easy to become numb to the violence that surrounds us. In some neighborhoods, there's no getting around it. Walk the halls of Carol City High, which lost six students to murder in 2006, and chances are you'll find someone who has been profoundly affected by death. Visit the corner of NW 70th Street and 15th Avenue in Liberty City — where earlier this year an unknown gunman opened fired on a crowd of people playing dice and killed two teenage boys — and eventually you'll find someone who has experienced the death of a loved one. Gang murders, bodies floating in canals, and shot kids turning up in dumpsters — it's all part of the city's recent history.

For this story, New Times obtained investigation and autopsy reports on 30 of 48 people who died between February 23 and March 1. We could not obtain the remaining 18 files because law enforcement authorities are still investigating those cases. In addition to murders, we tracked suicides, accidental fatalities, and deaths from natural causes reported by the medical examiner, all of which account for only ten percent of deaths in the county. The other 90 percent are usually people who have died of natural causes reported by emergency room doctors who sign the death certificates.

We also spoke to individuals who deal with death every day — from the coordinator of the county's public interment program to funeral directors — to find out how they cope with so much tragedy.

Through this exercise, we learned a few things about death. For starters, people often die alone. No one hears them scream. No one sees them take their last breath. No one is there to immediately call 911. Second, most deaths never make headlines. Even those that do are quickly forgotten. For most of us, when we die, the only ones who will care will be the loved ones we leave behind.

FEBRUARY 23

6:34 a.m., Hialeah

Gladys Tabarez, a caretaker at a group home for people with physical and mental disabilities, went into Josue Bellevue's room to check on her 28-year-old charge. He was not breathing. Fire-rescue responded to the scene, but it was too late. Born July 29, 1980, Bellevue stood four feet 11 inches tall, weighed 114 pounds, and had curly black hair and coarse beard stubble. A single young man with Down syndrome, he slept in one of the six bedrooms inside the tan two-story house at 265 W. 63rd St. Every day, he took five prescription meds, including lorazepam and temazepam, two anti-anxiety drugs. From the window of the living room, he had a view of the lone palm tree on the front lawn.

Cause of death: lobar pneumonia

10:10 a.m., Miami Beach

A.C. Weinstein was divorced and lived alone in unit 27 of a cream-colored two-story apartment building at 1050 Pennsylvania Ave. A neighbor became concerned about Weinstein after noticing a growing pile of newspapers in front of the 62-year-old's apartment. The neighbor knocked on the door several times, but Weinstein did not answer. The neighbor got a spare key from the building manager and entered Weinstein's pad. Weinstein was on his living room sofa. He was not breathing. Miami Beach Fire-Rescue pronounced him dead.

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