Romelio and Mercedes Meneses went to a Wells Fargo bank branch Tuesday morning to set up a memorial fund for their son. The couple doesn’t have much money and can’t afford to pay for his funeral.
On Monday evening, Jesus Meneses, 17, was playing basketball at Flagami’s Kinloch Park. Somehow, his basketball bounced over a seven-foot high metal fence that is protected by barbed wire surrounding a Florida Power & Light electrical power grid.
Jesus jumped the fence to get his ball. His family was told it was on a dare. Then, spotting another ball inside an interior fence, the Coral Gables High senior scaled that, too, and accidentally touched a live electrical wire.
He died instantly. One witness, a friend, said Jesus’ body began to smoke, then his clothes caught fire.
“The coroner won’t release the body in the shape it is,” said Frank Diaz, the family’s pastor who accompanied Jesus’ parents to the bank on Tuesday. “They won’t even allow the parents to view the body.”
The teen’s sudden death shook family and friends and led to an outcry over an old but powerful electrical center that is next to the popular city park and homes. Some called for the fencing to be replaced with a concrete barrier. An investigation into Jesus’ death by Miami police is underway. FPL officials promised to work with local authorities.
“Anybody willing to jump over, it’s easily accessible. Who would put an FPL power station next to a children’s park? It doesn’t make sense,” Diaz said. “The whole community is up in arms. How can they permit this to happen? How many deaths is it going to take?”
Despite Pastor Diaz’s concerns about the height of the fence, the FPL power grid isn’t easy to access. It sits adjacent to Kinloch Park at the corner of Northwest 47th Avenue and Fourth Terrace. The company’s towering electrical towers are surrounded by a seven-foot fence topped by barbed wire.
All around the fencing are signs in English and Spanish warning the public to stay out because of high voltage. Its gates are chain-locked. The actual towers that the power feeds into are protected by more interior fencing.
The Flagami substation was built in 1926, predating the park and the apartments that surround it.
FPL Spokesman Bill Orlove said the substation “exceeds national safety standards.” He said there are 140 similar substations throughout Miami-Dade. They are built by need, said Orlove, some after open public discussion, others without controversy on property acquired by the utility.
The Kinloch substation receives between 137,000 and 500,000 volts of electricity and is only 12 feet from the basketball court in the park where Jesus played ball on Monday. By comparison, a standard electrical outlet in a home carries 120 volts, a bolt of lightning about a million. All around the substation are two-story apartment complexes, and some stand-alone homes.
The east side of Kinloch Park is attached to the Sandra DeLucca Developmental Center for the disabled. On Tuesday morning, counselors and students swarmed the basketball court. The only sign of Jesus’ death was a makeshift memorial at the front entrance of the park’s recreational center, where eight senior citizens were playing dominoes inside.
On the landing of the recreational center, in front of flowers and candles and a skateboard and a large stuffed Kermit the frog, someone had written “RIP Jesus.”
Jesus’ grandmother said she heard the news of her grandson’s death on TV. She immediately called her daughter, who confirmed her worst fears.
“He told me, ‘Grandma, I need a graduation ring.’ And I told him I would buy it for him. Now there is no going back,” Sarah Meneses said.
The scene was grim on Tuesday at Coral Gables High, where there were lots of tears and many students wore black. After the bell rang, dozens of students flocked to the park bearing flowers, stuffed animals, candles and notes.
“He was a great guy, fun to be with,” said Yanelin Perera, 15, who knew Jesus since third grade. “I still can't believe it.”
Accounts differed Tuesday on whether Jesus climbed the fence on a dare. Friends who were with Jesus when he jumped the fence said they’d seen others do it before.
Friends described the scene at the park Monday night as “chaotic,” and said Jesus’ body remained covered inside the electrical grid as police and paramedics waited for FPL’s arrival to shut off the electricity. Many friends stayed at the park all night.
Jesus’ family lives five blocks from the park. An avid skateboarder, Jesus had played basketball at Kinloch Park since he was a child. His parents said he planned on joining the Navy or the Marines after high school graduation. Jesus has four siblings.
Standing before reporters Tuesday and speaking in Spanish, his mother and father said they were “destroyed” by the loss of their son. They asked for donations because they wanted to give him a proper Christian burial.
“We lived, breathed and walked for him,” said Mercedes Meneses, a pastor who works with an organization that operates an Opa-locka food bank and a church in Northwest Miami-Dade.
Romelio Meneses called for FPL or the city to build higher fencing, and even hire a security guard. He said he hopes others learn from his son’s death.
“He was my life,” he said.
Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.