A city of Miami garbage truck slammed through a concrete barrier on Interstate 95 Monday afternoon and careened off the highway where it crosses high over the Miami River, landing inside a popular children’s park in Little Havana.
The accident — which miraculously occurred on a holiday when the typically bustling Jose Martí Park was quiet — happened around 5 p.m. on the I-95 southbound exit ramp to Southwest Seventh Street. Authorities said the driver, identified as city employee Kaseem Smith, plunged about 100 feet and was apparently thrown from the crumpled cab, which split from the garbage container.
He just came flying down from the highway
Florida Highway Patrol Spokesman Joe Sanchez
Smith was seriously injured, and the truck crushed the back ends of two unoccupied cars. But no one else was hurt.
“Words fail me except to say we are blessed that it was on a day like today,” said Rosa Maria Plasencia, CEO of Amigos for Kids, which on school days hosts an after-school program for about 100 kids at the park. “That little area is a very small closed street where cars can park and turn around, and it leads right to the playground.”
Florida Highway Patrol investigators are working to determine what happened and why Smith lost control of his truck. The ramp was shut down after the dramatic crash, which clogged rush-hour traffic as drivers ran agog from their vehicles to stare down at the ground below.
“He just came flying down from the highway,” said Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Joe Sanchez.
The truck landed on its wheels with its big, blue trash bin overturned and leaning against a walkway wall. It was near a playground and pool at the park, 362 SW Fourth St., shortly after a group of high school friends finished a game of three-on-three basketball at the park. The impact of the crash sent debris and shrapnel flying.
“Basically, we heard what sounded like an explosion,” said Matheos Cremonese, 15, one of the ball players. “Then we looked up.”
We heard what sounded like an explosion. Then we looked up
Matheos Cremonese, teenage ball player at Jose Marti Park
The garbage truck didn’t topple, Cremonese and three friends said, but plummeted onto the park’s parking lot. Jorge Fuentes, 16, another ball player, said that usually the park would be filled with younger children playing in the after-school program. But it was relatively empty because of the holiday.
“Thank God for Presidents’ Day,” Fuentes said.
Smith, the driver, was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center and listed in serious condition Monday night, according to Miami Fire Rescue.
“He is lucky to be alive,” said Miami police spokesman Rene Pimentel.
Words fail me except to say we are blessed that it was on a day like today
Rosa Maria Plasencia, CEO of Amigos for Kids, on children not being in the park due to holiday
Sanchez said investigators were trying determine how the driver lost control of the truck. Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo, who represents Little Havana, rushed to Jose Martí Park after the crash. He said city waste trucks are equipped with video cameras on the front and rear, which should shed some light into the accident.
Carollo said there hadn’t been any decision made Monday evening on when to reopen the park. But he said authorities told him the exit ramp would remain closed until the massive gap in the concrete barrier could be repaired.
Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso said the truck was a city of Miami vehicle and that Smith worked for the city’s Solid Waste Department. He said the city is in contact with Smith’s family: “We’re praying that he recovers and he’s fine.”