Kick ass carl Hiaasen

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Crowd gripped by "real" crime drama

April 12, 1986

One color of death was bright yellow.

Yellow were the police ribbons that stretched from tree to tree, to keep people away. The ribbons fluttered in the morning breeze, and crisscrossed in mock gaiety the Kendall neighborhood. Outside the ribbons, crowds stood and stared. On the inside, men with radios and clipboards and tape measures and cameras moved grimly from one corpse to the next. There were four corpses in all.

Yellow was the color of the plastic sheets that covered the two FBI agents, who lay dead in the shade of a black olive tree. Occasionally the breeze would lift the sheets, and a policeman or federal agent would hurry forward to cloak them again.

The dead killers lay bloody and uncovered.

Incredibly, seven agents had been shot here. It was the bloodiest day in the FBI's history. A federal prosecutor who knew the dead agents watched and wept. He was not alone.

From an elevated parking ramp, reporters, photographers, TV cameramen and dozens of bystanders looked down on the tableau, at the intersection of Southwest 82nd Avenue and 122nd Street. Construction workers drank beer and guessed about how it had happened. A lady shopper with an Instamatic snapped a picture.

It was a bright cloudless day, a day when all the colors of death were vivid.

The broad bloodstain in the middle of the road was already burgundy, turning to brown in the heat.

A shotgun lay nearby, five empty green shells shining like emeralds on the pavement. A few feet away was a black-barreled pistol and, beyond that, what looked like an automatic rifle.

During the chase, two cars had crunched into a bottlebrush tree, its blossoms crimson; beneath its outer branches were two cream-colored FBI Buicks, one pocked by bullet holes. The brake lights were still on.

Once all this had been noted and absorbed, there was little else to see.The shooting had lasted only minutes. It had been quiet for hours now, and still we stood and watched. The wounded were gone, die dead were silent.

Up the ramp came several Palmetto High School students, some skipping class, others taking an extra-long lunch break. None of them was clowning around, but the distance from the bodies made casual talk an easier thing.

A blond teenager in a sleeveless T-shirt watched for a few minutes, then turned to go. "Death in Miami," he said to some friends. "It's nice to know we live in such a nice city."

Another student, Mark Saymon, asked to borrow a photographer's telephoto lens, to get a closer look. He said this was his third shoot-out scene; the others were a bank holdup and a Farm Store robbery. "Nothing like this," Saymon said. "I can't believe they let that dude lie in the sun."

The dude was dead, of course. He was one of the suspects. Pot-bellied guy with black hair. He lay on his back. His left arm was taped where the paramedics had tried to get some fluids going before giving up; the chubby guy's clothes were soaked with too much blood. A man wearing rubber gloves fished through the dead man's pockets.

What grips onlookers at such times is the proximity of recent death. The danger is past, but the aftermath transfixes.

On television, blazing shoot-outs are followed by commercials. Real-life murder scenes do not dissolve so easily; not in the eye, not in the mind. The color of death is unforgettable.

There is also a ponderous ritual to investigation; the more victims, the longer it takes. On Friday the dead men lay where they fell for four hours.

Finally the killers were placed in the back of a light-blue van and hauled off to the medical examiner.

The agents were taken away in separate hearses.

The color of death was jet black.

Gunman, shot 12 times, wouldn't quit

August 6, 1986

The epilogue to the bloodiest shootout in FBI history is a stack of four autopsy reports, numbered 86-966 through 86-969 in the Dade medical examiner's office.

These are detached and clinical accounts, as precise as can be expected considering the mayhem behind the Suniland Shopping Center. Each file has a diagram of where the cars came to rest at 12.201 SW 8lnd Ave. on the morning of April 11. Drawn next to the automobiles are supine stick-figure bodies, four of them.

Two of the figures represent FBI agents Gerald Dove and Ben Grogan. The others are robbers Michael Lee Platt and William R. Matix.

The files are a collection of tangible and observable facts, some well-publicized and some obscure. For instance, all four of the men had Type O blood. Three wore Nike running shoes; both Dove and his killer took size 10 1/2.The two suspects died wearing empty shoulder holsters. Platt had a black glove on his right hand.

William Matix, the man originally thought to have murdered the two agents, probably didn't kill anybody. He fired his shotgun only once. He was shot in the jaw, the neck, the left cheek, the right forearm, the right side of the head and the right cheek. The last bullet tunneled to his spine.

After the autopsy, Matix's eyes were donated to science.

A trail of bloodstains proved that Michael Platt murdered the two agents. He used a Ruger Mini-14 rifle, serial number 184-95273. The high-speed slugs can make an entry wound scarcely a quarter-inch in diameter and an exit wound as big as a fist.

In barely two minutes more than 100 shots ripped through the South Dade neighborhood. Forty of those came from the Ruger.

Grogan's 9mm Smith & Wesson had been fired nine times and Dove's had been fired 20, which meant the young agent had reloaded during the fight.

Agent Ron Reisner's gun had been shot six times, while agent Gilbert Orrantia's .357 had been fired 12 times. Badly injured, agent Edmundo Mireles had fired a 12-gauge shotgun five times, then heroically staggered to the car in which Matix and Platt were trying to escape. There Mireles shot them both fatally with his . 357 revolver.

Investigators did their best to reconstruct the movements—who stood where, who shot whom, who died first—but on paper it's impossible to describe the choreography of terror that morning.

What's obvious is that the shootings didn't happen the way they do on TV shows; there was no script. Nor were the wanted men mere paper silhouettes on the range at Quantico. Probably all the firearms training in the world wouldn't have prepared the FBI agents for the likes of Michael Platt.

They shot him only moments after he slithered from his stolen Monte Carlo and took aim. He was hit again and again, yet he did not fall. Somehow, through an animal reserve of adrenalin or pure fury, Platt kept darting and bobbing and firing the Ruger assault rifle.

In all, seven agents went down in his sights.

A sad irony emerges from the ballistic tests. Of the first bullets that Platt absorbed, the most deadly came from the gun of agent Gerald Dove. The shot exploded Platt's right lung—a killing wound, but it didn't even slow him down. He simply ducked around the car, ambushed Dove and Grogan, and kept on shooting.

To the agents, Platt must have seemed a spectral force.

The man was hit 12 times: once in the forehead, twice in the right arm and chest, once in the right forearm, once in the upper chest 12 inches below the head, once in the right shoulder, once in the thigh, and multiple times in both feet from shotgun blasts.

Like his partner, Platt died with one of Mireles' bullets in his spine. Fifth cervical vertebra.

That was the one that stopped him. Platt and Matix and their weapons were dragged from Grogan's car. A policeman reached into the driver's side, slipped the gearshift to park and turned off the key. Finally it was over.

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