Rene Betancourt was beat up, not by thugs, but by a garage wall.
The broken, bruised man who shattered his skull was hospitalized for days while Miami police looked for potential assailants. The investigation ended Friday when police released a surveillance video, showing Betancourt’s face-first encounter with a concrete column while he was skateboarding.
Detectives spent two weeks trying to put the pieces together of a story with more than a few holes in it.
Betancourt, 22, an avid skateboarder, was found bloodied and disoriented in a downtown parking lot on July 6, inside his sister’s Fiat 500.
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His parents found him slumped in the car and took him to Ryder Trauma Center where doctors treated his severe injuries, included a laceration to his head and a fractured orbital bone.
Doctors removed a life-threatening blood clot from his brain, which swelled from the impact.
Shortly after he was admitted to the ER, detectives questioned Betancourt, who, according to the original police report, told investigators he was “jumped by 4 to 5 unknown black males.”
His faint answers quickly escalated into a story of a brutal attack, which dominated local media for days. Headlines reported on his recovery and his first steps were televised.
Jackson Memorial Hospital set up a donation fund for his medical bills.
Miami Longboard Crew organized a fundraiser for their fellow skater, in response to what Miami Police had said was an apparent robbery.
Sympathetic comments on Facebook from fundraiser organizer Jorge Garcia reflected the community’s concern.
“This is truly disturbing,” Garcia wrote. “The foul souls responsible for this have tainted our sanctuary.”
Two days after the attack, Miami police sent out a press release to media outlets with initial information on the incident, saying that “possibly three black men approached the victim in the area of Biscayne Boulevard and Northeast 3 Street and in the midst of the crime, beat him.”
But the events shown in the video released Friday disputed Betancourt’s original statement.
While the man never called 911, he made several unanswered phone calls – to his younger sister and to a friend around 1:30 a.m., minutes after he crashed into the wall.
The phone calls were vague, but asked for help. When he didn’t get an answer, Betancourt wobbled to his car which was parked in a nearby city lot, minutes away from Ryder Trauma Center.
His parents called his cell and got a garbled answer. They quickly found him and drove him the short distance to the ER. His mother, Rosie Betancourt, stayed at her son’s side in intensive care during his 10 days of rehabilitation.
Friday, Betancourt’s mother watched the video of her son slamming into the corner of the pillar on the eighth floor of a garage on Northwest 12the Street and 14th Avenue. He lost control on a sharp turn and met the wall with force.
As the skateboard flew from under him, he fell to the ground, staying motionless for about five minutes. Another video camera from the indoor garage’s elevator showed a crippled Betancourt with the skateboard under his arm as he rode down to the first floor, leaning limply against the wall.
She was relieved to know her son had not been attacked.
“For the way that my son looked, it seemed like an assault,” she said. The family jumped for joy when detective told them it was an accident.’’
Betancourt was released from the hospital Tuesday, but his mother said he remains ‘cloudy’ on what happened.
“After that fall, it was like he didn’t have any clue of what was happening,” she said.
Garcia, president of Miami Longboard Crew, said he suspected the beating story was a cover-up for a bad fall, but didn’t want to point it out to the family.
“He was skating without a helmet,’’ said Garcia, who did not personally know Betancourt. “You can’t do that.”
Rene Betancourt is recovering at home. While he can speak with some difficulty and recognize family members, he cannot recall the incident, his mother said.
Short term memory loss is normal for head trauma patients, said neurosurgeon Dr. Ricardo Komotar.
Meanwhile, Miami Police is not happy that Betancourt misled the public.
“Mr. Betancourt alleged that he had been robbed,” said Kenia Reyes, the department’s public information officer. “But it appears that because of the severity of his head injuries, we will not file charges.”
Miami Herald staff writers David Ovalle and Michael Vasquez contributed to this report.