The checkpoints may be gone in most places in the Florida Keys as residents try to rebuild, refurbish and get back to regular routines. But that doesn’t seem to be stopping folks from getting into trouble.
On Monday, an inmate being transported back south after evacuating from Hurricane Irma jumped out of a transport van and is now in critical condition in the hospital. And a 14-year-old Tavernier boy was arrested, accused of loitering in the dark on a neighbor’s property while in possession of burglary tools.
The tool: a flashlight.
The young teen, whose name hadn’t been released on Tuesday, told police he was walking through the property to look at tarpon in a nearby canal.
On Sunday morning, Monroe County sheriff’s deputies lifted the roadblock at Mile Marker 73, allowing residents to return to the Lower Keys to see their homes and begin the long, arduous task of rebuilding.
State officials have said that 20 percent of the homes in the Florida Keys were destroyed after Hurricane Irma tore through — its eye and Category 4 winds striking Cudjoe Key — the morning of Sept. 10.
At 7:30 a.m. Tuesday., the roadblock in Florida City leading down the 113-mile stretch of islands to Key West, was lifted. Monroe County officials and Sheriff Rick Ramsay said it was time to allow residents to bring in friends, families and contractors to begin the task of rebuilding.
Still, Ramsay warned that his deputies would be out in force patrolling neighborhoods — many that still remained in the dark and without power — on watch for looters or anyone else looking to take advantage of the suffering residents.
“We need to make sure no one is entering these neighborhoods who doesn’t belong there,” Ramsay said.
Despite the recent good news, 21 neighborhoods between Key West and Marathon received such extensive damage that they will be blocked to everyone other than residents with proof of identification, police said.
Those neighborhoods, which include Big Pine Key and Sugarloaf, are between Mile Markers 11 and 60. Curfews will remain in place throughout the Keys and a precautionary swim advisory is in place for its beaches.
Though looting hasn’t been widespread in the Keys, police promised to be active as the arrest of the 14-year-old early Monday morning indicates.
According to Monroe County sheriff’s spokeswoman Becky Herrin, the teen was spotted on Fontaine Drive in Tavernier walking with a friend on a neighbor’s property at 3 a.m. The woman’s grandson managed to catch the teen, though his friend took off, police said.
When the teen told police he was looking for tarpon, they arrested and charged him with loitering and trespassing with a flashlight, which police considered a burglary tool.
Then just past noon Monday, an inmate who had been evacuated from a Monroe County prison or jail was being transported back to the Florida Keys through Palm Beach County when he said he needed to use the bathroom, according to Florida Highway Patrol trooper Lt. Yosvany Veloz.
But before getting to the back of the bus, the inmate opened an emergency window and leaped out somewhere in Palm Beach County. He’s now in critical condition at Delray Medical Center.
“Now, he might not even make it,” Veloz said.