They had just had lunch and were on their way to a travel agency to pick up their tickets for their annual trip to Cuba.
Osvaldo González and Alberto Arias, friends and partners, on Thursday last week ended up beneath a Miami crosswalk, just like so many other persons who were carrying out in a carefree way their daily tasks.
An adolescent girl was on her way to the doctor’s to pick up a medicine. A man, the father of three children, was heading home from work. A woman who was going for a manicure stopped at a red light. In seconds, or centimeters, those who would live or die would be decided.
Sweetwater detective Juan Llera was in his office a few blocks away when he heard what seemed like a bomb going off.
It wasn’t a bomb: it was a crosswalk, a structure so alike others, underneath which millions of persons drove every day. That structure under construction, weighing 950 tons, collapsed at the Florida International University, without giving time to the persons who were there to be able to escape. The vehicles that were beneath at that precise moment were crushed. Six persons died.
“Just imagine,” said Amauri Naranjo, who knew González since he came from Cuba in the 1980s. “An old friendship that even survived when we had the sea between us and that is gone with something like this.”
González and Arias, owners of a business that rented out everything needed for parties as well as decorating them, were among the deceased. Their bodies were found on Saturday under the white Chevy truck. The rescuers worked for days taking away the debris in search of the passersby who could be buried. Hopes for a miracle started dissipating as the names of the dead were made known. Those who survived were trying to wrestle with the absurd of all this, the unexpected.
Many were saved by a question of seconds
Dania Garlobo was heading in her car to the beauty parlor where she works when a green light changed to yellow. A man driving a white Mercedes accelerated, but braked precisely when the crosswalk was collapsing in front of him.
“He almost ended up beneath it. I couldn’t believe it,” said Garlobo, who saw how the crosswalk collapsed in what seemed a second.
“How can it be that such a solid crosswalk collapses like a plank?” she asked herself.
Llera arrived at the site in a few minutes. Chaos reigned and he found an unconscious man on the street, and he started to give him first aid. He almost couldn’t feel his pulse, but someone from the university’s medical department came over and told him, “You’re keeping him alive. Keep doing it.” He continued until they took him away. The man was alive.
Llera unsuccessfully called the hospital to see if he could get some news. He thought the man had survived and expected to be able to shake his hand someday.
But on Sunday morning he saw a photo on the news of a young man with a red shirt.
He had been identified as Navarro Brown, 37, an employee in Structural Technologies VSL. And he was listed among the dead.
He had died in the hospital.
“I felt like this time the bad guys had won,” said the detective.
The family of the dead and wounded asked for their privacy to be respected while they tried to cope with their losses, as irreparable as inexplicable.
“It’s something magical when you find your soul mate in this world,” said the wife of Brandon Brownfield, Chelsea, on Facebook. “It’s like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. We fit just right as no one else.”
The Brownfields had three children. The family had moved to Florida several years ago because he had found a job with Maxim Crane Works, according to a collection for the family that a friend initiated on the Internet and that in a few days collected more than 50,000 dollars. He was going home from work when the crosswalk collapsed.
“Now I have to find the words and answers to explain to my daughters that their dad will not come back,” the woman wrote on her Facebook page.
The investigators are still working to determine what caused the collapse. Days before some cracks had been detected in the concrete and safety controls were being carried out when the structure fell over a busy highway.
An adolescent who was traveling in a car passed away and another suffered minor lesions. Both of their lucks depended on where they were seated.
Richie Humble, a 19-year-old student, hadn’t been feeling well that week. On Thursday an 18-year-old friend, Alex Duran, the best person he had met, took him to see the doctor to pick up some medicines. They stopped at a red light, precisely beneath the crosswalk.
“I heard a creaking, a prolonged creak,” said Humble to Associated Press in an interview on the phone. “I looked up and in an instant the crosswalk came down on us. There was no time for anything.”
When he realized he was alive, he also understood that he couldn’t find his friend. He called his name and there was no answer. A group of persons started to shout at him to try to crawl out of the car. They were able to pry open the door so he could get out.
He sat on a sidewalk while the medical personnel treated some cuts on his legs and a slight vertebra fracture. He recalls that he asked himself “what am I going to do now?”
“We all have to recover. Life goes on,” one man in the rescue team told him.
An uncle of Duran, Joe Smitha, was getting ready for a colonoscopy that evening when he heard that a crosswalk close to the school had collapsed. She didn’t answer the phone, but he said he didn’t worry. His children at times didn’t answer immediately.
“I told myself, ‘what are the probabilities that out of the thousands of persons who live in Miami she could be one of the six or eight who were trapped under the crosswalk, at a red light?’”
When he came out of the anesthesia after the intervention, he found out that she would be one of the six persons who were crushed by the crosswalk at a red light.
AP / OnCuba