Longform

Renegade Road

Near dawn on Wednesday, January 21, Everglades airboat captain Jesse Kennon was jolted awake by the whirring of helicopter blades over his roof. His first thought: That sounds like Rescue One.

The ruddy-skinned, ponytailed patriarch of Coopertown had heard Miami-Dade Fire Rescue choppers many times before. He estimates he's seen 50 serious accidents directly outside his place on Tamiami Trail, where Miami drivers and a narrow two-lane road form a lethal combination.

White-and-chocolate Miccosukee Police cruisers were crowded haphazardly around the accident about 400 feet to the east, their lights flashing but sirens silent. Kennon had seen tribal cops and Florida Highway Patrol work together at the scene of an accident before, he says, "but this was the first time I'd seen only tribal cops working a crash."

A pair of three-ton vehicles lay crumpled and strewn like spent soda cans on opposite sides of the road. A dark blue Ford Expedition SUV was overturned on the guardrail in the eastbound lane; three of its wheels were in the air, and its fender was ground into the asphalt.

A wrecked silver four-door Nissan Frontier pickup was in the opposite lane. Its torn-away hood, bearing a deep crater on the driver side, exposed the compacted engine. The left front tire rested on a metal rim, and the right wheel was twisted perpendicular to the vehicle. The front window was shattered and sunken. The truck looked as if a giant hand had balled it up.

The Frontier belonged to Tatiana Furry, a 31-year-old Kendall yachtswoman who sometimes made trips to Miccosukee Resort & Gaming, about four miles to the east, to play bingo or poker. For her family, a surreal nightmare was about to begin.

Fourteen hours after the accident, her father Jack was finally informed his daughter had been killed in the collision. She had "fallen asleep" and been "internally decapitated," tribal Det. Russell Barnes told him, adding that, as the first cop on the scene, he had personally checked her vitals. There were "two people in the [other] vehicle," detectives told the Furrys, though they refused to give names.

Four months later, Jack Furry and his family have received no further information from the cops — and have found the account they were given is riddled with inconsistencies and falsehoods.

Other law enforcement agencies have been misled as well. An FHP sergeant who arrived at the scene an hour after the accident was turned away. "We relied on information from the Miccosukee Police Department," Capt. Mark Welch says. "It wasn't until later that we found out it was in fact not within their jurisdiction."

Though the police have refused to release reports or even an official statement concerning the accident, New Times has discovered that the four young Miccosukee men involved in the accident, who all survived, have amassed at least 17 traffic-infraction and nine criminal charges, including driving with an unlawful blood alcohol level, having an open container of alcohol in a vehicle, and possessing cocaine. At the time of the accident, the Expedition's driver, a grandson of the Miccosukee tribal chairman, was battling a felony charge in court.

"Why did they lie to us about how many people were in the car?" Tatiana's older brother Will demands as he stands in his comfortable Coconut Grove sunroom. "Why won't they give us any information at all on the other vehicle? Why did it take them 14 hours to contact us? I have no choice but to believe that they're hiding something."

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The 500-plus members of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians are descendants of unconquered warriors who, in centuries of fighting, have never retreated from an aggressor.

Close brothers within the Creek Family to the Seminoles, but always defined by their own Mikasuki language, they came from the Carolinas to Florida in the 1700s as mercenaries recruited by the Spanish to guard against British invasion.

In the 1830s, Miccosukees and Seminoles refused to be herded along the Trail of Tears to desolate Midwestern plains. They clung to state soil in the seven-year Florida War, which was among the bloodiest and most expensive Indian battles in American history.

Miccosukees fled into the untamed Everglades wilderness and weathered another American invasion in 1860. They overmatched their opponent in the swamp. "It was a guerrilla warfare battle in the Everglades," says Paul George, historian at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, "and the American government lost its advantage."

But the fighting and disease decimated the tribe. Numbers dwindled to roughly a hundred by the turn of the 20th Century. They established trade relations with the white man along the Miami River, but Miccosukees always regarded themselves as a renegade nation, making their own rules and strategic allies. In 1959, a group of six high-ranking tribe members visited Fidel Castro, who recognized them as visiting diplomats and saluted their "perseverance and courage."

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Gus Garcia-Roberts