Marina Sammartino is a sweet 77-year-old Argentine abuelita. But ask her about Miami International Airport and she lifts her left hand to show a stump where her pinky should be.
"What's going on there is a scandal," she says. "It's an embarrassment."
Sammartino is one of two women who say MIA luggage carts sliced off their fingers. Despite their gruesome complaints, county commissioners are poised to award cart company Smarte Carte a new contract next week.
It was 8 o'clock at night on November 9, 2009, when Sammartino landed at MIA after visiting family in New York. She spotted a Smarte Carte stand near the luggage carousel and paid for one of the metal-framed four-wheelers.
Suddenly, before she could collect her luggage, the cart spun around and slammed into her ankle. As she tumbled down, the cart fell on top of her.
"I didn't know what had happened," Sammartino says. "But what caught my attention was that people were running all over the place. Someone had put a napkin or something white over my hand. When I looked at the white napkin, it was already sopping with blood. That's when I realized something was wrong."
The sharp edge on a sign attached to the cart had sliced off almost an inch of her left pinkie. A uniformed airport employee soon ran over with a glass.
"I thought they were bringing me something cold to drink," Sammartino says. "But no, they were bringing ice in which to put the piece of my finger."
Doctors performed two surgeries but couldn't reattach the fingertip. Sammartino called Smarte Carte, but the company flatly denied responsibility, she says. When she wrote to then-county mayor Carlos Alvarez, he offered condolences but did nothing. The carts are "safe and useful," added airport customer service director Dickie Davis in a letter.
Yet Sammartino isn't alone in complaining. A month after her accident, she met another patient at her doctor's office. Fidelina Cordero had just lost her finger in an almost identical accident involving the same luggage carts at MIA.
A Smarte Carte accident at MIA sliced off most of the last bone in Sammartino's left pinky finger. Doctors later gave her a fake fingernail.
courtesy of Marina Sammartino
Cordero and Sammartino filed separate lawsuits against Smarte Carte, both of which are pending in Miami-Dade County Court. Sammartino says she's heard there are even more fingerless Smarte Carte victims out there. The company did not return Riptide's calls for comment. Airport officials also declined to talk about the suits.
Nearly three years after the accident, Sammartino has yet to receive a dime and continues to have problems with her finger. She hopes another operation earlier this month will help.
County commissioners, meanwhile, will vote September 4 whether to give Smarte Carte a no-bid, five-year contract extension. Mayor Carlos Gimenez has backed the idea. Sammartino not so much.
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"Who knows whether these carts are still cutting people's fingers off?" she says. "The county should do something... I want some justice."
Since being contacted by Riptide, at least one county commissioner has also started having concerns. "I was not aware of any accidents of a serious nature," says Xavier Suarez. "I would be hesitant to extend a contract until this is cleared up."