I-95 shutdown: There had to be a better way to do this

Southbound entrance to I-95 at 95th Street remained closed for 10 hours Monday as crime-scene personnel gathered evidence.
Southbound entrance to I-95 at 95th Street remained closed for 10 hours Monday as crime-scene personnel gathered evidence. MIAMI HERALD

A double murder along Interstate 95 early Monday left two men dead and two families grieving, all the result of an apparent wild car-to-car shootout — with AK-47s — on an entrance ramp at Northwest 95th Street.

That was the crime, but thousands of motorists bore the brunt of the punishment. Miami-Dade police closed down a portion of the interstate to gather crime-scene evidence — and it remained shut for 10 hours — primarily the southbound lanes — from 4:30 a.m. until around 2:30 p.m. That’s longer than an average workday; longer than it takes to fly to Europe or watch five movies.

As drivers were stranded or rerouted, the impact was profoundly aggravating, the economic costs likely astronomical. Thousands were late for work or school; truckers missed making deliveries on time; cars overheated, and cabbies and Uber drivers fought to get people to Miami International Airport on time. Some 5,000 school students being bused to an AmericanAirlines Arena event were late.

Miami-Dade’s court system was one of the hardest hit institutions. Some hearings had to be rescheduled. Jurors were late, including those sitting in on the Facebook killer murder.

For those on the road, there was no escape. It was ugly out there. So what was the wisdom, if you can call it that, of closing sections of I-95 for so long?

The Florida Department of Transportation said the request came from law enforcement. “They needed the road closed for their investigation,” local District Six Secretary Gus Pego told the Editorial Board. But even Mr. Pego said such long closures are rare. “I personally can’t remember the last time I-95 was closed for this long.”

And you know what? It should never happen again, not without checks and balances in place.

Miami-Dade police defended the closing, saying it was a complex crime scene, with a long trail of bullet casings to collect and one of the victims left dead inside a Ford Focus. “There was a lot of evidence to gather,” Miami-Dade Police Det. Jennifer Capote told the Board. “There was no other way around it but to close the road.”

To those inconvenienced, Det. Capote said: “If it was your family member who had been killed you wouldn’t want the case to go to trial and have it be said that detectives were careless with evidence.”

She’s right, and we get it. However, drivers were left on their own for far too long. Where were officers or public-service aides who could have directed traffic at major intersections, overriding red lights and waving long lines of cars through in each direction? Why, seven hours after the shootings, was there a river of cars held captive on I-95 southbound north of the crime scene all the way back to the Broward County line?

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez told the Board that he supports giving homicide detectives time to do its work. “My understanding is that there were AK-47 casings everywhere and a trail of blood to follow. And two people were killed in this incident.”

Mayor Gimenez said that county detectives were not at the scene the entire time. Florida Highway Patrol called them at 6 a.m., and they arrived at 7 a.m., three hours after the initial incident.

But the mayor said in the future he’ll request that investigations in such critical public locales be expedited. Fine, as long as it doesn’t compromise an investigation. Police, indeed, have a job to do — but so does everyone else.

Next time, call in smart reinforcements.

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