Kick ass carl Hiaasen




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On the beach, reality doesn't take a vacation

August 9, 1985


We beat the ambulance by two minutes.

The emergency room at Mount Sinai was filling with gray-suited men wearing plastic IDs, and out front were the cops—motormen, patrol officers, detectives, SWAT commandos, all with the same haggard look in their eyes. The look of the Grim Wait.

The call had gone out as a hostage situation, then a sniper and then this: "We have two police officers down!"

Racing across the Julia Tuttle Causeway, we'd heard another voice on the radio: "They're on the way to Sinai. We need a trauma team. We need a trauma team!"

And both of us, the photographer and I, thought the worst. Somebody murdered some cops, we thought.

At the emergency room we were told that the number was four. Four police officers shot during—what else—a drug deal.

In the swank Doral Beach Hotel, of all places. In the middle of a dead summer, in the murder capital of America.

What exactly had gone wrong was not clear, but it certainly wasn't Crockett andTubbs gliding through a TV bust. Four cops down was life gravely mocking art.

It doesn't matter how long you do this sort of thing, the sight of the first ambulance always turns your throat to sandpaper.

Because the first ambulance usually is where they put the one who took the worst shot.The first ambulance tells the story—just how bad it's going to be.

The doors swung open and there lay Detective Jim Mahle. His head was wrapped to cover two bullet holes in the right side of his skull. But one hand was moving. Best of all, he was conscious.

Then came Detective Joe White, bearded and shirtless, his white shorts bloodied. His eyes were open and he was holding his own IV bag. Sgt. Mike Lowe, a crimson smear on his forehead, walked into the emergency room on his own.

Another ambulance delivered undercover man James Scarberry ("I'm OK," he said), and then came the wounded police informant, pale, and moaning into an oxygen mask.

A few minutes later, a woman in a pink outfit gingerly made her way past the police cordon. A reporter asked if she were related to one of the victims. "No, my daughter just had a baby," the woman said, smiling. "I'm here for a happy occasion."

Soon a trauma specialist came out to announce that the policemen were going to make it. Miraculously, none of the injuries was life-threatening.

Over at the Doral, a man with a mop swabbed the front steps. The place was quiet.

"I got to work and I saw all these cop cars," said Rocky Hile, the downstairs bartender. "I thought they were shooting another episode of MiamiVice. I saw the blood on the steps and I thought: Boy, they really go all out. Then I come in and turn on the news at six o'clock and that's when I found out ...

"I had a guy at the bar earlier tonight who was on the loth floor when it happened. Heard all the shots and thought it was some kind of celebration," Rocky said. "Then the elevator door opens and there's a guy on a stretcher, all covered with blood. It still didn't occur to the guy that somebody had actually been shot.

"Until he got downstairs and saw the SWAT team."

I thought about that poor tourist—gaping at the stretcher in the elevator, finding the elegant lobby taken over by men with automatic weapons. I imagined the fellow turning to his wife and muttering, "You were right. We should've gone to Epcot Center."

Or maybe not. Maybe he knew what to expect from the South Florida vacation package: four days-three nights-one shootout.

That evening, by the hotel pool, Pfizer and Co. threw a private party attended by trim executives with new golf-course tans. There was an open bar and a twirling ice sculpture of a sailfish.

Upstairs, in a suite on the 11th floor, forensic experts hunted for bullet fragments and measured the bloodstains on the carpet.

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