Miami Memorial Park employees accused of removing mementos from gravesites

People whose loved ones were buried at a southwest Miami-Dade County cemetery are outraged after they said mementos placed at the gravesites were removed without notice. 

“We feel like our family got robbed. My mother’s gravesite got robbed,” Kimberly Martinez said.

It’s been nine months since Denise Rodriguez was laid to rest at Miami Memorial Park after losing a bout with cancer.

“My mom loved America. She loved American flags,” Martinez said.

The Rodriguez family honored Denise Rodriguez’s memory with an American flag at her gravesite, which remained there until they noticed it missing on their most recent visit.

“They told me it was behind the building, like as if it was just nothing but trash,” Martinez said.

Martinez snapped photos of a stockpile of flags and other artifacts plucked right from the gravesites at the cemetery.

The sight brought Martinez and her father to tears.

“It hurts knowing that the one little symbol, now symbolizing my mother, is no longer there,” Martinez said.

Local 10 News reporter Terrell Forney approached cemetery employees Monday for an explanation about the matter and saw what appeared to be workers still removing items from gravesites.

Park managers declined to go on camera, but said their rules are governed by the state and handed Forney a copy of what they said every plot purchaser receives in a signed contract.

The paper states that real flowers in approved vases are highly encouraged, but ornaments and unauthorized plantings, flower sprays, chairs, benches, etc. will be “removed without notice.”

The cemetery put up a sign in Spanish of its plan, and worker said they also placed courtesy pamphlets at the grave sites weeks ago.

“A flag is not an ornament. A flag is a symbol,” Julio Rodriguez said.

“We never got any notice,” Martinez said.

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Pembroke Pines mayor says there’s ‘nothing wrong’ with city’s drinking water

Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis is pushing back against a statement from the Florida Department of Health regarding the city’s drinking water that claims “the water is currently not meeting the standards for disinfectant byproducts.”

“(There is) nothing wrong, Amy, nothing wrong with the water in Pembroke Pines,” Ortis told Local 10 News investigative reporter Amy Viteri.

The byproducts mentioned in the DOH’s statement are trihalomethanes, or TTHMs.

Tests late last year in one area of the city showed an excessive level of contaminants in the water. The city sent out a letter, required by state law, to residents about the violation, explaining that high levels of TTHM’s can lead to liver and kidney issues and even cancer.

A Pembroke Pines resident, identified only as Joe, said he was confused when he got a second letter on Feb. 23 about the water. He said language in the first notice was scary, and the second letter claimed that the water was always safe.

The health department reacted with a warning notice, accusing the city of disseminating misleading information about the water. The department has since launched an investigation.

Meanwhile, Joe, whose wife was just diagnosed with cancer, was left confused and worried.

“Especially since my wife’s going to start chemotherapy and radiation therapy,” he said.

“The health department is saying that it’s potentially misleading to send the second letter that the city sent,” Viteri told the mayor.

“Well, we disagree with the health department,” Ortis said. “Obviously, they’re going to fine us the $2,400. That is normal, but everything is fine.”

Joe said he questions whether everything really is fine.

“I wonder if the mayor is really doing his job. He’s supposed to be protecting us,” Joe said.

“When people are hearing one thing from the health department and another thing from city leaders, they feel like their health is caught in the middle,” Viteri told the mayor.

“I understand, their health,” Ortis said. “No reason to worry in this city.”

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‘Butt doctor’ sentenced to 10 years in prison on manslaughter charge

For years Oneal Ron Morris has been in the headlines for illegally injecting Super Glue and Fix-A-Flat into the backsides of women, an act that led to the death of one of her patients.

During a Monday court appearance, Morris called herself a victim of media attention, and said she took a plea deal so she wouldn’t have to face a jury in the manslaughter case of one of her patients.

Morris, who is a transgender woman, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and five years of probation. She will serve her sentence in a men’s prison. 

The sentencing came after Shartaka Nuby, a woman Morris considered a sister, paid for a butt injection five years ago. She subsequently had complications and died. 

In court Morris complained about the media attention on her case. 

“I’ve been found guilty by the media and outside sources based on lies,” she said. 

Those words were not enough for family and friends of the victim. 

“Far as I’m concerned, 15 years is not enough,” someone who knew the victim said. 

Police said that Morris made a business out of performing cut rate cosmetic procedures.

Nuby’s mother spoke in court and said she believes Morris should take responsibility for her actions. 

“My daughter died the most inhumane death,” she said. “(For) 18 months she suffered without knowing the full (story) of what she put in her body.” 

Morris disagreed in court. 

“I did not cause harm to her, maliciously or in any way,” Morris said.  

This marks the second time Morris will be incarcerated for butt injection crimes, as she’d previously served a sentence in Miami-Dade County for practicing medicine without a license. 



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Travel ban lawsuit could speed toward more sweeping full bench review

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals is mulling over whether the full court — as opposed to only three judges — should hear a challenge to a federal district court’s decision to halt a core provision of President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban nearly two weeks ago.

US District Court Judge Theodore Chuang imposed a nationwide halt to the portion of the President’s executive order that tried to bar foreign nationals from six majority-Muslim nations from entering the country for 90 days. The Justice Department formally appealed Chuang’s decision on Friday, calling it “extraordinary.”

Normally, such an appeal from a trial court’s decision would be heard by a randomly assigned panel of three judges on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Yet, on Monday the appeals court issued an order asking both sides whether the case should be heard by the full court — otherwise known as “en banc” review — in the first instance and skip the three-judge panel.

The move may potentially signal to the parties the weightiness of the issues involved, as rehearings en banc are generally “not favored” in the federal system and “ordinarily will not be ordered unless … necessary to secure or maintain uniformity of the court’s decisions; or the proceeding involves a question of exceptional importance.”

“It’s unusual for a court of appeals to go en banc at such an early stage, but not unheard of — and may simply signal an entirely understandable view that, given the significance of the questions presented, the matter was likely to go to the full court even if it was first heard by a three-judge panel,” explained Stephen Vladeck, a CNN contributor and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.

“Given that, and given that the travel ban remains on hold pending the appeal, I think it’s a rather frank admission by the court of appeals that, regardless of how it comes out, this case is a pretty big deal — and ought to be treated as such,” he added.

The parties have until Thursday to provide their positions on the issue.

An attorney who represents the refugee groups and other individual plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit declined to comment, and the Justice Department did not immediately respond.

Last week, the 4th Circuit set an oral argument date in the case for May 8 in Richmond, Virginia.

Meanwhile, litigation over the travel ban continues in federal court in Hawaii. Like Chuang, US District Court Judge Derrick Watson in Honolulu issued a nationwide temporary restraining order, which blocked the core provisions of the travel ban, and is now considering whether to convert that ruling into a longer-term order. The Justice Department has not made any moves to appeal Watson’s ruling.

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Driver of BMW arrested after crashing head-on into Lyft driver

The driver of a BMW who collided head-on Sunday with a Lyft driver was arrested after authorities found a controlled substance in his possession, Miami police said.

The crash was reported about 2 p.m. Sunday at Southwest 17th Street and Southwest 25th Avenue.

Miami police said the driver of a Volkswagen Jetta, who sources identified as Robert Torra, had four people in his car when his vehicle was struck head-on by the BMW.

Torra was pronounced dead at the scene.

“Our hearts go out to everyone affected by this tragic accident,” Lyft spokeswoman Alexandra LaManna said. “We have been in contact with Robert’s family during this unimaginably difficult time, and are available to support law enforcement in their investigation.”

Miami Department of Fire-Rescue Capt. Ignatius Carroll said two women and four men, who range in age from 25 to 35, were taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center following the accident.

Their injuries range from head injuries to broken bones.

Authorities said the BMW driver was among the people taken to the hospital, and he was arrested after receiving treatment.

Police said the driver, whose identity has not been released, is not facing charges in the crash, but is facing charges for being in possession of a controlled substance.

Authorities said detectives are still investigating the crash, and it’s unclear whether the BMW driver was under the influence of a controlled substance at the time of the crash.

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Miami Open’s future? ‘It’s a hard one,’ Federer says

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) — When it comes to tournament matchups, Key Biscayne has fallen behind.

A stalled plan to upgrade the complex has caused the Miami Open to decline in prestige, raising doubts about its future.

“When I first arrived here, it was always the biggest tournament after the Grand Slams,” said retiring tour veteran Tommy Haas, who played in the event for the final time last week. “Unfortunately it just hasn’t been able to grow.”

Aside from the Grand Slams, tennis’ premier event is now Indian Wells, where Haas is tournament director as he ends a 22-year playing career. The Miami Open still draws most of the world’s top players, along with more than 300,000 spectators each year, but the future of the event has been in question since a 2015 appeals court decision that prevents improvements to the Key Biscayne facility.

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is interested in moving the tournament 18 miles north to his team’s stadium. Ross doesn’t want to buy the tournament but would invest in a tennis center on stadium grounds because he wants to keep the event in South Florida.

Miami Open officials would prefer to stay on Key Biscayne, and cost isn’t an issue. The tournament is willing to pay for $50 million in improvements to its complex.

But the site is a Miami-Dade County park, and heirs of the family that donated the land have long fought to limit construction. Barring a return to court, the tournament is blocked from carrying out planned upgrades.

“I think at this point everybody understands if it were to move,” said 18-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, who has been coming to the event since he was 14.

Rumors fly like shanked forehands. There has been speculation for more than a year that the tournament might relocate, with potential sites ranging from South America to China, but tournament officials say they’re staying in Miami.

“The question is, is everybody happy this way or not?” Federer said. “If you want to go bigger, clearly you have to move. But is the grass always greener on the other side? I’m not sure. It’s a hard one.”

For 31 years the tournament has been held on Key Biscayne, a picturesque island across Biscayne Bay from downtown Miami. When a permanent stadium opened in 1994, some heralded the event as a fifth Grand Slam.

But there has been little investment in the property since, causing growing complaints from sponsors and players that the facilities have slipped behind Indian Wells and other events.

Rafael Nadal, a four-time finalist playing in the event for the 13th time, said more courts are among needed changes. But the Spaniard loves the subtropical setting and international flavor.

“The place is beautiful, and it will be great if it can stay here,” Nadal said. “The most important thing that is the tournament stays in Miami. Miami is city well-known all around the world. It’s important that we have our bigger tournaments in important cities.”

But Key Biscayne is no longer even the biggest tournament in March.

Indian Wells, held in the California desert earlier in the month, can point to extensive upgrades in recent years, includes a 16,100-seat stadium billed as second-largest in the world for tennis, with 44 suites. Key Biscayne has a 13,800-seat stadium with 28 suits. While the 32-acre Key Biscayne site has only one permanent stadium, the 54-acre Indian Wells site includes a new permanent second stadium with 8,000 seats.

Players rave about the complex in California.

“We are sort of like the benchmark of what is possible,” Haas said.

On Key Biscayne there are complaints about locker rooms, bathrooms, crowded grounds and the temporary second stadium.

“Unfortunately the tournament just hasn’t been able to grow,” Haas said. “Unfortunately there is not much that has been done in many, many years now. Like everything in life you have to progress, and you have to step it up at times, and give the players and fans and sponsors what they want.

“Maybe they are going to move the event at some point, which would be sad. This is a great spot. People love coming here.”

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