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Questioning of incoherent injury victim led to attack theory

Rene Betancourt, the 22-year-old skateboarder originally thought to have been the victim of a savage beating in downtown Miami, is trying to set the record straight.

He wasn’t attacked by four to five black males, which was the lead police and news media followed for almost two weeks earlier this month. A surveillance video released more than a week ago showed him on his skateboard, without a helmet, slamming face-first into a concrete wall in a parking garage the night of July 6.

Betancourt, who spoke to The Miami Herald Sunday night, said he does not remember what happened, nor does he remember blaming his injuries on anyone.

“I have no recollection,” Betancourt said of his initial questioning by detectives while he was waiting to be taken into surgery for skull fractures and a blood clot on his brain the day after the accident.

“I have no idea what was going through my mind at that point in time. It can’t really be classified as entirely me,” Betancourt said.

The last clear moment he can recall is skateboarding near Jackson Memorial Hospital the night of July 6.

After the accident, he spent the night in his car, not far from the hospital where he would be treated.

“I knew there was a problem because my son said he was at his aunt Nora’s house when we tried calling him,” his father, Rene Betancourt Sr., said Sunday. He found his son the next morning near the parking garage, bloody and disoriented.

“He was in a parallel world.”

Miami police detectives arrived at the Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson the next day, shortly after Betancourt was admitted to a pre-surgery waiting room. Neurosurgeon Ricardo Komotar said that before surgery, Betancourt seemed to be confused.

“He certainly was not coherent.”

The questioning by police was brief, according to Betancourt’s father, who was in the room as a detective asked Betancourt how he was injured.

“He asked, ‘Did you get hurt?’, ‘Were you attacked?’, ‘How many people attacked you?’ ” the father said.

When his son did not respond, he said, the detectives asked: “One, two, three, four, five?”

Betancourt gave an affirmative response at that point, though it was more a grunt than a statement, his father said. Then detectives asked him for a description of the attackers.

“The detectives asked, ‘Are they white, Hispanic, black?’ ” his father said. “My son said yes. But you have to understand, he was not conscious of what he was saying.”

Betancourt’s response and the opinion of doctors, who believed the injuries were suspiciously serious, led police to believe he had been viciously attacked.

“If there wasn’t a videotape, we would still believe that he was attacked,” said Komotar. He said he has examined football players with similar head trauma who sometimes don’t remember which team they were playing against when they were injured.

While the news media also ran with the beating story, the community came forward with support, donating more than $1,600 to a fund set up for Betancourt by Jackson Memorial Hospital. Betancourt’s family has not received the money, and offered to return any money that was donated on the assumption that an attack had taken place.

Once the truth about Betancourt’s injuries emerged, a letter to the editor published July 26 in The Miami Herald expressed outrage: “Yet again, black men were demonized by someone who concocted a story to cover up his mess,” wrote Faye Davis.

Due to the severity of Betancourt’s head injuries, police did not charge him with misleading investigators. Miami police spokeswoman Kenia Reyes said details of the investigation of a possible attack could not be disclosed. It is not known how many people were questioned as potential attackers.

“It was two weeks total that everyone was saying it was an attack,” Betancourt said. When he watched the video, he said, he was shocked by what he saw.

“I was almost closing the door on what happened and then it swung open again.”

Betancourt said he regrets the misrepresentation of what happened to him.

“People were blamed and I had no control,” he said. “It was an accident, and it was my fault.”