Sunday, May 27, 2018
Public safety

Causeway victim Ronald Poppo finds peace but not healing

When Ronald Poppo was a kid in the 1950s and '60s, a family Christmas in Brooklyn meant wind-up model trains circling the tree, Italian dinners of lasagna and stuffed squid.

There was always music, because the Poppos have musical talent. Ronnie, as his older sister and two older brothers called him, played the violin as a child and guitar as a teenager.

An aunt brought Christmas presents, recalled Ronald's sister, Antoinette Poppo, who still lives in New York.

"We were poor, but we didn't know we were poor,'' she said.

It's hard to say when Ronald Poppo last enjoyed childhood Christmas memories, had a merry — or even comfortable — Christmas. After vanishing from the family in the early 1970s, he encamped on the gritty streets of Miami, an inebriated vagrant drifting ever further from the mainstream.

He surfaced again May 26 as the hapless victim in one of South Florida's most sensational, blood-drenched crimes. That day, a naked, crazed, 31-year-old Rudy Eugene attacked 65-year-old Poppo on the MacArthur Causeway, stripping away his clothes then gnawing on Poppo's face, leaving him mutilated and blind.

Police shot and killed Eugene about 18 minutes into the assault.

Through news of the event, Poppo's stunned siblings learned he'd been alive all along.

Following intensive medical treatment at Jackson Memorial Hospital, Poppo moved to Jackson Memorial Perdue Medical Center, an 11-acre, 163-bed nursing home/rehab facility in South Miami-Dade, its halls now cheerily decked with holiday decorations.

He has refused all interview requests since the incident, and apart from allowing doctors to hold a news conference in June, he hasn't authorized his treating physicians to talk about his medical condition.

Jackson officials closely guard his privacy.

Photos displayed at the June news conference showed Poppo's face as a mass of clots and raw tissue, his eye sockets hidden under flaps of skin, his nose gone, his cheeks and forehead partially so. Doctors had to remove one mangled eyeball but at the time hoped to save the other, and at least some sight.

They weren't able to.

His sister says that when they talk, brother Ronnie doesn't mention the attack, the past, or how he spends his time. But he did recently say that he likes his accommodations and the people who care for him.

"He says they take him outside and walk him around the place,'' Antoinette Poppo said. "He's glad to be there.''

He told her that "his face hasn't healed yet,'' but that he doesn't want more surgery because "it's going to hurt.''

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