Backlog blamed for group’s canceled trip to Smithsonian African-American museum

From the moment the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture opened its doors in Washington last year, the 1963 graduating class of Miami Northwestern Senior High School began planning a trip.

“You don’t know the people (who) paved the way for you all to be where you are now,” Claudette Farrington said. “So, yeah, it really meant a lot to us to go to this museum.” 

Originally an all-black school, many alumni at Miami Northwestern were part of the civil rights movement. 

“I always tell my children about those days and they just, you know, to them, it’s crazy,” Farrington said. “But they don’t understand.” 

Farrington’s graduating class has stayed close since high school and has planned trips and funded scholarships for current students. 

Classmate Alphonso Walker now lives in Maryland, and when the museum opened in September, he and Farrington got to work planning a trip. 

Passes for the museum are free, but they said the museum instructed them to request group passes online for their group of nearly 60 people. They did that in February and got an automated reply. 

Farrington said the message said: “If we are not able to fulfill your request, we will contact you with instructions for how to select another date and time.” 

Farrington said the email from the museum’s ticket vendor said someone would contact them within 14 days to confirm or let them know if they needed to choose another date for their visit.

When that didn’t happen, they assumed the passes would come in the mail. 

The group chartered two buses, booked hotels and restaurants for the long road trip. But those arrangements would eventually be canceled.  

Weeks later, they had no passes and no one to answer emails or calls. 

“I think the longest I held on was four hours one day. I got so tired of listening to music,” Farrington said.

By late March, Walker said he got an email confirming passes, but they were for August, not July. Then an email came from the museum stating Walker had agreed to accept passes for August. 

Walker said he had not talked to anyone at the museum about changing the date. 

“It hurts, you know, because we were so excited about the trip,” Farrington said.

A museum spokeswoman, Shrita Hernandez, sent Local 10 News a statement that read: “We, at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, are honored to have welcomed nearly 2 million visitors since opening last September. We are humbled by the support and interest in the museum, and take every action to receive as many visitors as possible. We are sorry that we cannot accommodate everyone who wants to visit. We will continue working with Claudette Farrington and her classmates to find a time for their visit.” 

“I went on their webpage a couple weeks ago and now they’ve stopped giving group passes,” Farrington said. 

A representative for the museum said that’s because there was a backlog of over 30,000 requests for group passes.

Farrington said they are still hoping to plan a trip for next year’s 55th class reunion — but at 71 years old, she said planning a trip like this isn’t easy and they don’t want to wait much longer.  

“We said, ‘We don’t know how long we have, you know, and we really, really (were) excited about going on this trip, because next year we don’t know who’s going to be with us,” Farrington said. 

Local 10 News checked back with the museum about the status of group passes and a representative said they are still working on a timeline for when those passes will be available in the future. 

Farrington said that her group is getting 60 passes for a visit in June next year. 

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Miami police train on how to safely interact with those with disabilities

Miami police officers received special training Tuesday specifically on how to interact safely with people with disabilities.

The training consisted of mock police scenarios with participants to know what to do if they pull over someone with disabilities or if a police officer needs to speak to someone with disabilities.

The training is a way to help officers and those with developmental disabilities better understand each other.

It’s also a way to enhance awareness and communication between police officers and people with developmental disabilities in their community.

Campers at the Sandra DeLucca Developmental Center got to experience a mock police encounter with Miami police officers during the training.

“The officers will run their lights, sirens and they are going to imitate a natural situation within the community where they may need to interact with them,” explained Nadia Arguelles-Goicoechea, of the Department of Parks and Recreation Disabilities Division. 

The training is in conjunction with the Wallet Card Project, a way to help officers understand specific needs of those with disabilities.

“The card is used to quickly and succinctly let the police officers know that a person has a disability and some of the traits of their disability,” said Debbie Dietz, executive director of the Disability Independence Group.

Last year’s police-involved shooting in North Miami served an example of why more interaction is needed.

Charles Kinsey, a behavioral therapist for an autistic man, Arnaldo Rios, was shot in the leg after police received reports of a person with a gun.

It was later discovered that Rios was holding just a silver, toy truck.

“What it showed is what we are trying to do and have been doing is needed and valuable, and that the fear is real,” Dietz said. 

Participants also enjoyed interacting with police.

“They are nice. They are nice people. They are reactive,” one camper, Nicholas Gulliksen, 19, said. 

The goal is to get all police departments in South Florida educated on the Wallet Card Project.

Numerous cities already have officers trained, such as the Coral Gables and North Miami Beach police departments.

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Powerful opioid suspected in 10-year-old Miami boy’s death

A 10-year-old boy from a drug-ridden Miami neighborhood apparently died of a fentanyl overdose last month, becoming one of Florida’s littlest victims of the opioid crisis, authorities said Tuesday. But how he came into contact with the powerful painkiller is a mystery.

Fifth-grader Alton Banks died June 23 after a visit to the pool in the city’s Overtown section. He began vomiting at home, was found unconscious that evening and was pronounced dead at a hospital. Preliminary toxicology tests showed he had fentanyl in his system, authorities said.

“We don’t believe he got it at his home,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said. “It could be as simple as touching it. It could have been a towel at the pool.”

She added: “We just don’t know.”

The case has underscored how frighteningly prevalent fentanyl has become – and how potent it is. Exposure to just tiny amounts can be devastating.

Investigators said Alton may been exposed to the drug on his walk home in Overtown, a poor, high-crime neighborhood where Assistant Miami Fire Chief Pete Gomez said he has seen a spike in overdoses in the past year and where needles sometimes litter the streets.

“There is an epidemic,” Gomez said. “Overtown seems to have the highest percentage of where these incidents are occurring.”

The three-block walk between the pool and Alton’s home took him down streets that appeared relatively clean Tuesday, but on the block in the other direction from his home, trash littered the pavement and empty lots. Homeless people slept in the shade of an Interstate 95 overpass.

Detectives are still trying to piece together the boy’s final day. Rundle appealed to the public for information.

“This is of such great importance. We need to solve this case,” she said. “I believe this may be the youngest victim of this scourge in our community.”

The boy’s mother, Shantell Banks, was informed of the preliminary findings last week. A distraught Banks told The Miami Herald that her son was a “fun kid” who wanted to become an engineer and loved the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, especially Cam Newton.

Jessie Davis, who lives in an apartment house next to the building where Alton lived, said her grandchildren, ages 8, 9 and 10, regularly make the same walk to the nearby park with a swimming pool. She said she initially thought the pool water made Alton sick and was shocked by news reports that he had been exposed to fentanyl.

“Where would a 10-year-old baby get something like that?” Davis said.

Thinking about her own grandchildren going to the pool, Davis said, “I’m going to tell them, ‘Don’t touch nothing.’ I don’t know whether they think it’s candy, but somebody needs to tell these kids something.”

The Florida Department of Children and Families said it is conducting its own investigation, in addition to that of the police.

Fentanyl is a synthetic painkiller that has been used for decades to treat cancer patients and others in severe pain. But recently it has been front-and-center in the U.S. opioid abuse crisis.

Perhaps best known as the drug that killed pop star Prince, it is many times stronger than heroin. Dealers often mix it with heroin, a combination that has often proved lethal.

Fentanyl is so powerful that some police departments have warned officers not to even touch it. Last year, three police dogs in Broward County got sick after sniffing the drug during a federal raid, officials said.

Gomez said his crews wear long sleeves, coveralls, gloves and masks while handling fentanyl. And “you never want to start reaching into people’s pockets,” he said, explaining that crews often cut people’s pockets open for fear of pricking themselves with needles.

The Florida Legislature addressed the epidemic, passing a law that imposes stiff mandatory sentences on dealers caught with 4 grams (0.14 ounces) or more of fentanyl or its variants. The law also makes it possible to charge dealers with murder if they provide a fatal dose of fentanyl or drugs mixed with fentanyl. The law goes into effect Oct. 1.

Nearly 300 overdose deaths in Miami-Dade County last year involved variants of fentanyl, according to the medical examiner’s office. Statewide, fentanyl and its variants killed 853 people in the first half of 2016. Of those, only nine were younger than 18.

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Miami boy, 10, among youngest victims of opioid crisis

Prosecutors in Florida believe a 10-year-old boy who died with the painkiller fentanyl in his system is among the state’s youngest victims of the opioid crisis.

Preliminary toxicology tests show Alton Banks had fentanyl in his system when he collapsed and died at his home on June 23. Health officials said fentanyl, and other synthetic forms of the drug, is so powerful that just a speck breathed in or absorbed through the skin can be fatal.

That’s what investigators believe happened to Alton.

The fifth-grade student started vomiting after coming home from an outing at the neighborhood pool. He was found unconscious that evening and rushed to the hospital where he was declared dead.

Investigators said there’s no evidence he came into contact with the drug at home. They think he may have been exposed to it at the pool or on his walk home in Miami’s Overtown community, which has been hard-hit by the opioid epidemic.

Detectives are still trying to piece together his final day. The Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Department is doing more testing, and a final report is pending. But State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle spoke publicly about the case because of its unusual nature and the need for tips to find out how Alton came into contact with the drug.

“He was out playing, like we want all our children to do,” Rundle said. “We’re anxiously hoping that someone comes forward to help us solve this horrific death.”

The boy’s mother, Shantell Banks, was informed of the preliminary findings last week. She was too distraught to speak in depth, but said her son was a “fun kid” who wanted to become an engineer and loved the Carolina Panthers.

“Cam Newton was his favorite football player,” she said.

Fentanyl is so powerful that some police departments have warned officers about even touching the drug. Last year, three police dogs in Broward County got sick after sniffing the drug during a federal raid, officials said.

The Florida Legislature addressed the epidemic, passing a law that imposes stiff minimum mandatory sentences on dealers caught with 4 grams or more of fentanyl or its variants. The law also makes it possible to charge dealers with murder if they provide a fatal dose of fentanyl or drugs mixed with fentanyl. The new law goes into effect Oct. 1.

Nearly 300 overdose deaths last year involved variants of fentanyl, according to the Miami-Dade County medical examiner’s office. Statewide, fentanyl and its analogs killed 853 people in the first half of 2016. Of those, only nine were under age 18.

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Miami-Dade state attorney asks for help in solving teen’s killing

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle is asking for the public’s help in finding the shooter who killed a 17-year-old boy last week in Miami. 

“At 8 p.m. (Friday), 17-year-old Robert Smith was gunned down in the city of Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood,” Fernandez-Rundle said in a video posted Monday on Twitter. “Robert was standing outside a friend’s home on Northwest 63rd Street and Third Court when someone drove by and opened fire on Robert and his friends.”

The shooting happened just a block away from Miami Edison Senior High School. 

A Miami Fire Rescue crew took Smith to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center, where he died.

“If you know anything about this senseless murder, please call in your anonymous tips to Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS,” Fernandez-Rundle said. “We need your eyes and ears to help us solve Robert’s murder. His life matters. We need your help to stop the killing.”

We need your help to find those responsible for the senseless murder of Robert Smith this past Friday night @CityofMiami #LittleHaiti area. pic.twitter.com/axYLHrLpqv

— Kathy Rundle (@KathyFndzRundle) July 17, 2017

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Miami-Dade state attorney asks for help in solving teen’s killing

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle is asking for the public’s help in finding the shooter who killed a 17-year-old boy last week in Miami. 

“At 8 p.m. (Friday), 17-year-old Robert Smith was gunned down in the city of Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood,” Fernandez-Rundle said in a video posted Monday on Twitter. “Robert was standing outside a friend’s home on Northwest 63rd Street and Third Court when someone drove by and opened fire on Robert and his friends.”

The shooting happened just a block away from Miami Edison Senior High School. 

A Miami Fire Rescue crew took Smith to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center, where he died.

“If you know anything about this senseless murder, please call in your anonymous tips to Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS,” Fernandez-Rundle said. “We need your eyes and ears to help us solve Robert’s murder. His life matters. We need your help to stop the killing.”

We need your help to find those responsible for the senseless murder of Robert Smith this past Friday night @CityofMiami #LittleHaiti area. pic.twitter.com/axYLHrLpqv

— Kathy Rundle (@KathyFndzRundle) July 17, 2017

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