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

Unlucky Number


Unlucky Number

A Miami Artist becomes an accidental witness to manslaughter.


Steve Gagnon

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."

Last Thursday morning, Lipner took his campaign to the sidewalk in front of the Broward County Courthouse, where he greeted prospective voters who formed a queue outside the metal detectors. The next time Riptide heard from him, he was phoning from the padded walls of Tamarac's University Pavilion.

"I thought that would be a perfect place to ask for votes," Lipner explains. Instead he attracted the attention of cops. "The deputies came out and asked what I was doing. I said I was running for president — and they threw me in handcuffs. Do you see the problem I'm having here? Hillary and Barack run for president and everybody believes them, but the moment I try to run for president, they think I'm crazy."

Unfortunately the incident made it impossible for Lipner and his running mate, Jules, a Siberian husky, to make a photo shoot scheduled for the next day, filling the candidate with regret. "We had her groomed and everything," he says.

It would have been a photo for the ages.


Wild Ride

How does a nondriver get a ticket?

By Natalie O'Neill

Patrick Strachan might be the worst driver in Miami. The 49-year-old mystery novelist says he has been behind the wheel only once in his life.

As a nervous 16-year-old, he climbed into a driver's ed car, turned the key, and pressed the gas. Then he flew head-on into a group of bystanders and trampled a line of neon orange cones. A doctor later told him he had problems with peripheral vision in his right eye.

After that, Strachan decided he was a bus man. "I said, 'To hell with it,'" he says. "I kept running into things." For more than 30 years, he hitched rides with friends and took public transportation.

But last November, he decided enough was enough. A friend told him about a partially blind little old lady who had just gotten her license. "I thought, If she can do it, I can do it," he says. "I got sick of being a passenger."

But when Strachan showed up at the DMV to get his learner's permit, he found that he already somehow had a driving record dating back to 1992. Four tickets popped up in the system, including driving with an expired and a suspended license.

Public records show Strachan has never been issued a license, only an ID card. "Someone used my name," he says. His theory: A now-deceased older brother, who had run-ins with the law, posed as him.

So he challenged the tickets by writing a letter to the Bureau of Driver Improvement. It read, "I cannot drive. I cannot operate a motor vehicle. I can't even ride a bicycle."

Miami-Dade Police spokesman Delrish Moss says it's unlikely Strachan had his identity stolen. Instead, he might have acquired the charges without having been issued a license — for example, getting busted for driving without a license and not showing up in court. Strachan contends he wouldn't have known how to work the vehicle.

Last week, the officer who wrote Strachan's citation was scheduled to appear in court and identify him from more than 15 years ago. But the hearing was rescheduled to take place in 60 days.

Until then, Strachan says he won't need to drive; he'll be at home writing. His predicament has provided some new literary inspiration. "I feel like I'm living fiction," he says. "I think I'll write a dark comedy about it."


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