Imagine every conceivable moment when your pants might spontaneously burst into flames. Got them all? OK, now which one would be the single most absurd?
Here's a good one: You're standing in front of a jury, arguing that your client didn't purposely set his car on fire — because it spontaneously combusted. Oops, just like your pants!
Well, that is exactly what went down inside a Miami courtroom yesterday. As defense attorney Stephen Gutierrez was addressing a jury in an arson case, arguing that his client didn't actually set his car ablaze, smoke began billowing from his pants pocket, and Gutierrez suddenly ran from the room.
Spectators were stunned. “It was surreal,” one told the Miami Herald's David Ovalle, who broke the bizarre tale. The judge was immediately suspicious and hinted to the Herald he could hold Gutierrez in contempt.
But today the attorney insists his pantalones de fuego were not intentionally planned. The culprit: a faulty e-cigarette that just happened to burst into flames at the worst — or, alternately, best — possible moment.
"Shortly after beginning my argument, I noticed that my pocket began to feel hot. When I checked my pocket, I noticed that the heat was coming from a small e-cigarette battery I had in my pocket," Gutierrez says in an email to New Times. "I noticed the heat was intensifying and left the courtroom as quickly as possible – straight into the bathroom. I was able to toss the battery in water after it singed my pocket open."
Gutierrez says he was as shocked as anyone by the accident.
"This was not staged," he says. "No one thinks that a battery left in their pocket is somehow going to 'explode.'"
In fact, exploding e-cigs have been a documented problem. Dozens of cases have been reported of people seriously burned by malfunctioning batteries.
Not one of those people, though, was arguing about spontaneous combustion to a jury in an arson case when the malfunction happened.
"After careful research, I now know this can happen. I am not the only one this has happened to, but I am in a position to shed light on the situation," Gutierrez says. "E-cigarette accessories can be extremely dangerous. The ongoing regulation in the industry is much-needed. However, much more is needed. The dangers of these devices, and accessories, have led me to quit using e-cigarette products. "
That's probably for the best.
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.