Home » Entries posted by TERRY SPENCER Associated Press
A video shown in court shows accused Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz rushed at a jail guard, briefly wrestling him to the ground during a November 2018 altercationBy TERRY SPENCER Associated PressJuly 14, 2021, 10:05 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleFORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Accused Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz rushed at a jail guard and was briefly able to wrestle him to the ground during a 2018 altercation before he was subdued, according to a video shown in court Wednesday.Cruz, making his first in-person court appearance since before the pandemic, sat quietly in an orange jump suit and shackles during the 30-minute hearing over battery and assault charges stemming from the Broward County Jail altercation. It happened nine months after the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 dead and 17 wounded.The Nov. 13, 2018, jail altercation is being tried separately from the first-degree murder case, and Wednesday’s hearing was to determine whether prosecutors should have access to Cruz’s medical records. Prosecutors say they need to review the records as Cruz’s attorneys have indicated their defense will be that Sgt. Raymond Beltran mistreated Cruz previously and provoked the attack.In the video, which doesn’t have sound, Cruz is seen walking alone in circles with his head down around some benches in a small indoor recreation area at the jail. He is dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, a white long-sleeve undershirt and sandals. Beltran is sitting at a table in the corner.After several minutes, Cruz stops about 10 feet (3 meters) from Beltran and the two appear to exchange words — Beltran told investigators he asked Cruz not to drag his feet and damage his sandals. Cruz flips both middle fingers at Beltran and then charges the guard, who stands up to defend himself. Cruz, who weighs about 130 pounds (60 kilograms), is able to throw the larger Beltran to the ground briefly, before the guard is able to flip him over and briefly pin him.Cruz escapes Beltran’s grasp and the two get into boxing stances. Cruz hit Beltran in the shoulder before the guard hits Cruz in the face, staggering him.Beltran then arms his stun gun and points it at Cruz, who gets on the ground and is handcuffed. The fight lasted almost exactly a minute.Prosecutor Maria Schneider told Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer that her team needs Cruz’s complete medical records from the time he arrived at the jail shortly after the shooting because if Beltran previously mistreated him, any injuries might have been documented.David Wheeler, Cruz’s attorney, argued that Cruz’s medical records are private under state and federal law and at most prosecutors should only be allowed to see records of any examinations that happened within a day of the fight. Neither Cruz nor Beltran appeared to suffer any serious injuries.Scherer said she would rule on the prosecution’s request by Friday.No trial date has been set for either the assault or murder cases. Cruz, 22, faces a possible death sentence if convicted on the murder charges. His attorneys have said he would plead guilty to the murder charges in exchange for a life sentence, but prosecutors have refused.
SURFSIDE, Fla. — Rescue workers now focused on finding remains instead of survivors in the rubble of a Florida condominium collapse paused briefly atop the pile Thursday to mark the two-week anniversary of the disaster but said they had no plans to pull back during the recovery effort.The death toll rose to 64, with another 76 people unaccounted for, Miami Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a news conference Thursday. Detectives are still working to verify that each of those listed as missing was actually in the building when it collapsed. Meanwhile, rescue workers who have been at the site for two weeks are dedicated to the task of recovering as many victims as possible, Levine Cava said.“The work continues with all speed and urgency,” she said. “We are working around the clock to recover victims and to bring closure to the families as fast as we possibly can.”The painstaking search for survivors shifted to a recovery effort at midnight Wednesday after authorities said they had come to the agonizing conclusion that there was “no chance of life” in the rubble of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside.“When that happened, it took a little piece of the hearts of this community,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose congressional district includes Surfside.Michael Stratton, whose wife, Cassie, has not officially been confirmed dead, said friends and family had accepted “the loss of a bright and kind soul with an adventurous spirit.” He was talking on the phone with his wife right when the building collapsed, and she described shaking before the phone went dead, he has told Denver’s KDVR-TV.“This wasn’t the miracle we prayed for, but it was not for lack of trying by rescue crews whose tireless bravery will never be forgotten,” he said in a statement Thursday.Wasserman Schultz and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged financial assistance to families of the victims, as well as to residents of the building who survived but lost all their possessions, while acknowledging the devastating toll the tragedy has taken on them over the past two weeks.“Is there hope? Will we be able to have a miracle? I know it’s weighed a lot on the families,” DeSantis said.In addition to property tax relief for residents of the building, DeSantis said the state government will work toward channeling an outpouring of charitable donations to families affected by the collapse. Levine Cava said crews were also collecting and cataloguing a long list of personal items, including legal documents, photo albums, jewelry, wallets, and electronic goods that they would seek to reunite families with.The Rev. Juan Sosa of St. Joseph Catholic Church met with other spiritual leaders at the collapse site, where heavy machinery picked through the rubble and mourners left flowers and photos.Sosa said faith leaders hope to bring peace to the grieving families.“I’m hoping that they have some closure as we continue to pray for them,” he said.The change from search and rescue to recovery was somber. Hours before the transition Wednesday, rescue workers stood at solemn attention, and clergy members hugged a line of local officials while many of them sobbed.An accordion player unseen on a nearby tennis court played Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” which was followed by a piccolo playing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said Wednesday crews remained committed to doing whatever it takes to finish the job.“The resources are still there. The men and women are still there. The support is still there,” said Jadallah, who began crying silently after he spoke.Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said he expects the recovery effort will take several more weeks.Hope of finding survivors was briefly rekindled after workers demolished the remainder of the building, allowing rescuers access to new areas of debris.Some voids where survivors could have been trapped did exist, mostly in the basement and the parking garage, but no one was found alive. Instead, teams recovered more than a dozen additional victims. Because the building fell in the early morning hours, many were found dead in their beds.No one had been pulled out alive since the first hours after the 12-story building fell on June 24.Meanwhile, authorities are launching a grand jury investigation into the collapse and at least six lawsuits have been filed by Champlain Towers families.———Associated Press writers Stacey Plaisance in Surfside, Florida; Kelli Kennedy and Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Ian Mader and Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami; and Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta contributed to this report.
The search for victims of the collapse of a Miami-area high-rise condominium reached its 14th day on Wednesday, with the death toll at three dozen, more than 100 people still unaccounted for and authorities sounding more and more grimBy TERRY SPENCER Associated PressJuly 7, 2021, 7:21 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSURFSIDE, Fla. — The search for victims of the collapse of a Miami-area high-rise condominium reached its 14th day on Wednesday, with the death toll at three dozen, more than 100 people still unaccounted for and authorities sounding more and more grim.Crews on Tuesday dug through pulverized concrete where the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside once stood, filling buckets that were passed down a line to be emptied and then returned.The up-close look at the search, compliments of video released by the Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Department, came as eight more deaths were announced — the most for a single day since the search began. It also came as rain and wind from Tropical Storm Elsa disrupted the effort, though the storm was on track to make landfall far across the state.Searchers have found no new signs of survivors, and although authorities said their mission was still geared toward finding people alive, they sounded increasingly somber.“Right now, we’re in search and rescue mode,” the county’s police director, Freddy Ramirez, said at a news conference Tuesday evening. He soon added: “Our primary goal right now is to bring closure to the families.”No one has been rescued from the site since the first hours after the building collapsed on June 24 when many of its residents were asleep.Searchers were still looking for any open spaces within the mounds of rubble where additional survivors might be found, said the county’s fire chief, Alan Cominsky.“Unfortunately, we are not seeing anything positive,” he said.Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the families of the missing were preparing for news of “tragic loss.” She said President Joe Biden, who visited the area last week, called Tuesday to offer his continued support.“I think everybody will be ready when it’s time to move to the next phase,” she said.Reporters got their closest in-person look at the site Tuesday, though it was limited to the portion of the building that workers tore down Sunday after the initial collapse left it standing but dangerously unstable. A pile of shattered concrete and twisted steel stood about 30 feet (9 meters) high and spanned roughly half the length of a football field. A pair of backhoes pulled rubble off the pile, which blocked any view of the search effort.Severe weather from Elsa hindered search efforts to a degree. Lightning forced rescuers to pause their work for two hours early Tuesday, Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said. And winds of 20 mph (32 kph), with stronger gusts, hampered efforts to move heavy debris with cranes, officials said.However, the storm’s heaviest winds and rain would bypass Surfside and neighboring Miami as Elsa weakened along its path to an expected landfall somewhere between Tampa Bay and Florida’s Big Bend.Crews have removed 124 tons (112 metric tonnes) of debris from the site, Cominsky said. The debris was being sorted and stored in a warehouse as potential evidence in the investigation into why the building collapsed, officials said.Workers have been freed to search a broader area since the unstable remaining portion of the building was demolished.
Officials overseeing the search at the site of the Florida condominium collapse seem increasingly somber about the prospects for finding anyone aliveBy TERRY SPENCER Associated PressJuly 6, 2021, 9:06 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSURFSIDE, Fla. — Officials overseeing the search at the site of the Florida condominium collapse sounded increasingly somber Tuesday about the prospects for finding anyone alive, saying they have detected no new signs of life in the rubble as the death toll climbed to 36.Crews in yellow helmets and blue jumpsuits searched the debris for a 13th day while wind and rain from the outer bands of Tropical Storm Elsa complicated their efforts. Video released by the Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Department showed workers lugging pickaxes and power saws through piles of concrete rubble barbed with snapped steel rebar. Other searchers could be seen digging with gloved hands through pulverized concrete and dumping shovels of debris into large buckets.Search-and-rescue workers continued to look for open spaces where people might be found alive nearly two weeks after the disaster struck at the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside.“We’re actively searching as aggressively as we can,” Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said at a news conference. But he added: “Unfortunately, we are not seeing anything positive. The key things — void spaces, living spaces — we’re not seeing anything like that.”While officials still call the efforts a search-and-rescue operation, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said families of those still missing are preparing for news of “tragic loss.”“I think everybody will be ready when it’s time to move to the next phase,” said Levine Cava, who stressed that crews would use the same care as they go through the rubble even after their focus shifts from searching for survivors to recovering the dead.“Really, you will not see a difference,” she said. “We will carefully search for bodies and belongings, and to catalog and respectfully deal with any remains that we find.”No one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the collapse, which struck early on June 24, when many of the building’s residents were asleep.Officials announced Tuesday that teams had recovered eight additional bodies — the highest one-day total since the collapse. More than 100 people remain unaccounted for.Severe weather from Elsa threatened to hinder search efforts. Lightning forced rescuers to pause their work for two hours early Tuesday, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said. And stiff winds of 20 mph (32 kph), with stronger gusts, hampered efforts to move heavy debris with cranes, officials said.However, the storm’s heaviest winds and rain were expected to bypass Surfside and neighboring Miami as Elsa strengthened before making landfall somewhere between Tampa Bay and Florida’s Big Bend on a path across northern Florida.“Active search and rescue continued throughout the night, and these teams continue through extremely adverse and challenging conditions,” Levine Cava said. “Through the rain and through the wind, they have continued searching.”Crews have removed 124 tons (112 metric tonnes) of debris from the site, Cominsky said.Workers have been freed to search a broader area since the unstable remaining portion of the condo building was demolished Sunday amid fears that the structure could fall. Officials said the demolition gave rescuers access to spaces that were previously closed off, including bedrooms where people were believed to be sleeping at the time of the disaster.———Associated Press writers Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami; Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee, Florida; Cody Jackson in Surfside, Florida; and Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia, contributed to this report.
The number of people missing in the Florida condominium collapse has fallen substantially, from 145 to 128By TERRY SPENCER Associated PressJuly 2, 2021, 10:00 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSURFSIDE, Fla. — The number of people missing in the Florida condominium collapse fell substantially Friday, from 145 to 128, after duplicate names were eliminated and some residents reported missing turned up safe, officials said.Authorities also announced the recovery of four more bodies, including the 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter, raising the confirmed death toll to 22.Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the number of missing declined following an audit. In some cases, when detectives were able to contact people who had been reported as potentially missing, they found that not only were they safe, but other members of their families were safe, too. That pushed the list of people who have been accounted for up to 188 and reduced the number of missing, she said.“So this is very, very good news,” she said, adding that the numbers are expected to keep changing because detectives are continually reviewing the list and verifying reports.Detectives have worked around the clock to contact relatives and others. In some cases, English and Hebrew names have been offered for the same missing relative, officials have said.The 7-year-old who perished in the collapse was “a member of our fire family,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said.The discovery of the girl’s remains was especially hard on rescuers, Levine Cava said.“It was truly different and more difficult for our first responders. These men and woman are paying an enormous human toll each and every day, and I ask that all of you please keep them in your thoughts and prayers,” she said at a news conference.The mayor also said she signed an emergency order to demolish the remaining part of the building once engineers have signed off on it. She said the order was signed now so that the demolition can move quickly once a date is set. Officials previously said it will likely be weeks before the demolition is scheduled.No one has been rescued since the first hours after the June 24 collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South condominium.During a meeting Friday with relatives of the missing, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said that only one voice has been heard during the entire search. A woman’s voice was detected until about 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. on the morning of the collapse, which happened around 1:30 a.m. Rescuers were unable to reach her, and he said no other voices or human sounds have been heard since.Jadallah also prepared the families members for a possible suspension of the search if Hurricane Elsa — now in the eastern Caribbean — brings strong winds to South Florida that would make the work too dangerous.Some rescue workers who are now staying in tents will be moved to cruise ships, which can stay safe during a tropical storm, Jadallah said.About 600 first responders will stay on the Royal Caribbean ship Explorer of the Seas, the cruise line said. The ship, which can accommodate more than 3,000 passengers, began housing rescue teams Thursday and likely will continue for the next month.Friday’s announcements came the day after concerns about the structure’s instability prompted a 15-hour halt to the search for survivors. Crews noticed widening cracks and up to a foot of movement in a large column.The cause of the collapse is under investigation. A 2018 engineering report found that the building’s ground-floor pool deck was resting on a concrete slab that had “major structural damage” and needed extensive repairs. The report also found “abundant cracking” of concrete columns, beams and walls in the parking garage.Just two months before the building came down, the president of its board wrote a letter to residents saying that structural problems identified in the 2018 inspection had “gotten significantly worse” and that major repairs would cost at least $15.5 million. With bids for the work still pending, the building suddenly collapsed last Thursday.———Associated Press Writer Bobby Caina Calvan contributed to this report from Tallahassee, Florida.
SURFSIDE, Fla. — As the search for survivors of a Florida condo collapse enters its second week, rescue crews and relatives of those still missing are scheduled to meet with President Joe Biden Thursday, in a visit many are hoping will provide some measure of comfort to a devastated community.Biden and first lady Jill Biden plan to thank first responders and search and rescue teams. They also plan to meet with the families of victims, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.The president’s visit comes a week after Champlain Towers South, a 12-story beachfront condominium building in Surfside, suddenly came crashing down, leaving a pancaked rubble.Search crews going through the ruins found the remains of six people Wednesday, bringing the number of confirmed dead to 18. The number of residents unaccounted for stands at 145.Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez said he hopes Biden’s visit will be a morale booster for the entire community.“We’ve had several challenges from weather, sorrow, pain. And I think that the president coming will bring some unity here for our community, support, like our governor, our mayor, all of us together,” he said.Psaki said the president and first lady also want to make sure that state and local officials have the resources and support they need under an emergency declaration approved by Biden for Miami-Dade. She emphasized Wednesday that the White House is being careful to coordinate with officials on the ground to ensure that Biden’s visit doesn’t do anything to “pull away” from the ongoing search and rescue effort.State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis said he hopes to emphasize to Biden that there is a need for mental health resources to treat rescue workers for post-traumatic stress disorder.“These guys are so blindly focused on the mission of saving lives, and unfortunately they see things they can’t unsee,” Patronis said.“We want to make sure that when they ultimately do go home, that we’re giving them the strength … to be able to get back to work without fear of nightmares and challenges.”Since the tragedy, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, a Democrat, have projected a united and cooperative front as they respond to the crisis.Previously, they had sometimes sparred over how best to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, with clashes over wearing masks and other measures to control the pandemic. But no signs of partisanship have been evident in Surfside.DeSantis has spoken appreciatively of the aid coming from Washington, even commending the Biden administration for “stepping up to the plate.”“We really appreciate having the support of the president,” DeSantis said at a Friday news conference in Surfside — although hours before, he had blasted President Joe Biden’s border policies during an earlier press conference in the state’s Panhandle.DeSantis, who is up for reelection next year, is said to be exploring a run for the presidency in 2024.Among the remains found Wednesday were those of a mother and her two daughters, ages 4 and 10, a loss that Cava called “too great to bear.”Miami-Dade police identified the children as 10-year-old Lucia Guara and 4-year-old Emma Guara, and their mother as 42-year-old Anaely Rodriguez. The remains of their father, Marcus Guara, 52, were pulled from the rubble Saturday and identified Monday.The cause of the collapse is under investigation. A 2018 engineering report found that the building’s ground-floor pool deck was resting on a concrete slab that had “major structural damage” and needed extensive repairs. The report also found “abundant cracking” of concrete columns, beams and walls in the parking garage.Just two months before the building came down, the president of its board wrote a letter to residents saying that structural problems identified in the 2018 inspection had “gotten significantly worse” and that major repairs would cost at least $15.5 million. With bids for the work still pending, the building suddenly collapsed last Thursday.———Associated Press writer Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami and Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee contributed to this report.
SURFSIDE, Fla. — The torturous wait for word of nearly 160 people unaccounted for after an oceanfront condominium building collapsed near Miami, killing at least four, is taking a toll on relatives who can do little but pray and hope their loved ones will somehow be found alive in an increasingly dire hunt for survivors.As scores of rescuers used big machines, small buckets, drones, microphones and their own hands on Friday to pick through the mountain of debris that had been the 12-story Champlain Towers South, Rachel Spiegel was anxious for any update on her missing mother, 66-year-old Judy Spiegel, who lived on the sixth floor.“I’m just praying for a miracle,” Spiegel said. “We’re heartbroken that she was even in the building.”Jeanne Ugarte was coming to grips with what she feared was a tragic end for longtime friends Juan and Ana Mora and their son Juan Jr., who was visiting his parents in their condo at the tower.“I know they’re not going to find them (alive),” Ugarte said. “It’s been too long.”Hopes rested on how quickly crews could complete their grim, yet delicate task in Surfside, just a few miles north of Miami’s South Beach.“Any time that we hear a sound, we concentrate in that area,” Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said. “It could be just steel twisting, it could be debris raining down, but not specifically sounds of tapping or sounds of a human voice.”Buffeted by gusty winds and pelted by intermittent rain, two heavy cranes removed debris from the pile using large claws Friday, creating a din of crashing glass and metal as they picked up material and dumped it to the side. A smoky haze rose from the site.Once the machines paused, firefighters wearing protective masks and carrying red buckets climbed atop the pile to remove smaller pieces by hand in hope of finding spots where people might be trapped. In a parking garage, rescuers in knee-deep water used power tools to cut into the building from below.Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said crews were doing everything possible to save as many people as they could.“We do not have a resource problem, we have a luck problem,” he said.Officials said they still don’t know exactly how many residents or visitors were in the building when it fell, but they were trying to locate 159 people who were considered unaccounted for and may or may not have been there.Flowers left in tribute decorated a fence near the tower, and people awaiting news about the search watched from a distance, hands clasped and hugging. Congregants prayed at a nearby synagogue where some members were among the missing.On the beach near the collapsed structure, visitor Faydah Bushnaq of Sterling, Virginia, knelt and scratched “Pray for their souls” in the sand.“We were supposed to be on vacation, but I have no motivation to have fun,” Bushnaq said. “It is the perfect time to say a prayer for them.”Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez said authorities were working with the medical examiner’s office to identify the bodies that have been found. Eleven injuries were reported, with four people treated at hospitals.Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said rescuers were at “extreme risk” going through the rubble.“Debris is falling on them as they do their work,” she said. “We have structural engineers on-site to ensure that they will not be injured, but they are proceeding because they are so motivated.”Teenager Jonah Handler was rescued from the rubble hours after the collapse, but his mother, Stacie Fang, died. Relatives issued a statement expressing thanks “for the outpouring of sympathy, compassion and support we have received.”“There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie,” it said.While officials said no cause for the collapse early Thursday has been determined, Gov. Ron DeSantis said a “definitive answer” was needed in a timely manner. Video showed the center of the building appearing to tumble down first, followed by a section nearer to the beach.The missing included people from around the world.Israeli media said the country’s consul general in Miami believed that 20 of its citizens were missing. Another 22 people were unaccounted for from Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay and Paraguay, including relatives of Paraguayan first lady Silvana de Abdo Benítez.———Associated Press writers Tim Reynolds and Ian Mader in Miami; Freida Frisaro and Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale; Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; R.J. Rico in Atlanta; and Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee, contributed to this report.