Monday, December 11, 2017
Public safety

Miami man who had much of his face chewed off is 'awake and alert'


Ronald Edward Poppo — possibly blind, horrendously disfigured — is a happy man.

So say the doctors treating him, who are amazed at his good nature.

"He has not said one thing that's negative,'' said Dr. Nicholas Namias, a surgeon at Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ryder Trauma Center. "He's really just sort of living in the moment.''

Doctors talked about their famous patient's condition on Tuesday for the first time since paramedics brought him to Ryder, on May 26 from the MacArthur Causeway, where a crazed, naked man, Rudy Eugene, chewed off at least half of his face.

In a new development in the sensational case, the doctors described two puncture wounds on the left side of Poppo's chest, where he sustained a broken rib, raising the possibility that the Miami police officer who killed Eugene might also have injured Poppo.

"It could have been an object. It could have been a bullet, but it's not an issue anymore,'' Namias said. "It's nowhere near the worst of his problems.''

The holes, which have healed over, "seemed to connect,'' he said. "There was no foreign body left behind.''

"It could have happened," said Armando Aguilar, president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police.

Officer Jose Ramirez fired five shots at Eugene.

Ramirez "had to take swift action, and bullets have a mind of their own,'' Aguilar said. "Just by seeing this horrific act, he had to take immediate action and there was no room for anything else.''

Poppo, an alcoholic street person, also suffered a short-term brain injury much like a car-crash victim would have sustained. The injury required several CAT scans and likely contributed to Poppo's initial confusion, Namias said.

He's being treated for an infection unrelated to the facial wounds, Namias added, and is generally in good health.

Officially, Poppo's condition is stable, and doctors said he gave them permission to discuss his case with the media.

"He's doing well,'' said Namias, who answered questions alongside Dr. Wrood M. Kassira, the plastic surgeon rebuilding Poppo's face, and Dr. Jorge Delgado.

They displayed the first officially released photos of Poppo since the incident, and confirmed that unofficial photos taken immediately after the assault are genuine.

In those original photos, Poppo's face is a bloody pulp, unrecognizable as human. It's still not known who took them or posted them on the Internet.

"We couldn't make out what his features were,'' Kassira said. "Our main objective is to provide (wound) coverage to allow him to recover from the trauma and cope with what's happened to him.''

In the new photos, Poppo's face looks intact from the mustache down. A gauze bandage covers his now-empty left eye socket, and a flap of his own skin protects what's left of a damaged right eyeball.

Bloody scabs, raw wounds and skin grafts cover the rest of his face. He lost his eyebrows, part of his forehead and right cheek, and his nose.

Where the nose once was, Kassira said, "you're seeing what we call exudate,'' defined as "a fluid with a high content of protein and cellular debris which has escaped from blood vessels and has been deposited in tissues or on tissue surfaces.''

Eventually, "that area will slough off and you'll have healed new tissue underneath,'' she said. "The cartilage is technically not exposed."

She said she and Poppo have talked about reconstructive surgery, and that Poppo said: " 'We'll take it one day at a time.' He's very logical. … This is a long process.''

To a great extent, she said, how much reconstructive surgery he undergoes will be up to him. Medicare and Medicaid are paying for much of his care.

"If he doesn't get his vision back, is he more concerned about how he looks or about how the world treats him?'' Kassira asked.

The doctors said that Poppo, who has been homeless for more than half of his 65 years, knows he might be blind. Surgeons removed his left eyeball, and no one knows if he has sight in his damaged right eye.

They said Poppo knows what happened to him, knows it's a huge news story, and that he has been portrayed as a victim of violence.

He has talked some about the past — including his days at New York's prestigious Stuyvesant High School — but not at all about the future.

"He's had quite a bit of surgery and has quite a bit more to go,'' said Namias, who noted that "he's getting a host of benefits now that he wasn't getting before. Of course I don't think he'd have traded this awful event for the benefits. … He's just happy with where he's at and what's going on for him is okay.''

"I've never used this word to describe someone before,'' Namias said, "but he's charming. He really is.''

Social workers and psychotherapists visit and chat. Poppo goes to physical therapy, and takes all medications by mouth. He asks for orange juice and Italian food, and sports on television.

Namias said that Poppo asked if the doctor planned to watch the NBA Finals Tuesday night between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, and sent him off to the news conference with a hearty: "Go Heat!"

Poppo also knows that a long-estranged brother in California has spoken to his doctors and is helping manage his care, Namias said.

Poppo has two brothers and a sister who lost contact with him 30 years ago. He also has a daughter in New Jersey who was 2 when she last saw him, and has said she thought he was dead.

Poppo often slept in a parking garage of Jungle Island, the Watson Island tourist attraction, where homeless outreach workers and police offered help as recently as April. He refused.

The doctors wouldn't speculate about how long Poppo might remain in the hospital or where he'll go when he leaves.

"The guy has got to be a survivor, living on Watson Island all these years,'' Namias said. "I think he's become pragmatic about life. … Right now there's nice people around him and meals and there's hope.''

Miami Herald staff writers Luisa Yanez and David Ovalle contributed to this report.

Reasons elusive as Pinellas EMS demand skyrockets

Reasons elusive as Pinellas EMS demand skyrockets

When the fire chief asked if anyone in the room had fallen before, a few in the gray- and white-haired crowd raised their hands. One woman lost her footing as she was answering the phone. Another saw a palmetto bug, sprayed it with repellent, then s...
Updated: 15 minutes ago
‘What I am detained for?’ Comedian Hannibal Buress arrested in Miami

‘What I am detained for?’ Comedian Hannibal Buress arrested in Miami

Popular comedian Hannibal Buress was arrested Saturday night in Wynwood on a disorderly intoxication charge after an encounter with a police officer.Buress, 34, was booked into a Miami-Dade jail at 1:57 a.m. Sunday and posted bail just before 6 a.m.,...
Published: 12/10/17
Florida Uber driver charged with sexual assault of passenger

Florida Uber driver charged with sexual assault of passenger

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A Florida Uber driver is facing charges that he sexually assaulted a drunken passenger.The Orlando Sentinel reports that 38-year-old Jorge Alberto Antunez Quintero was charged this week with sexual battery after an investigation ...
Published: 12/09/17
Florida man accused of killing Ollie the pit bull faces 17 counts of animal cruelty

Florida man accused of killing Ollie the pit bull faces 17 counts of animal cruelty

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — The Florida man accused in the brutal stabbing death of a pit bull named Ollie is facing 17 counts of aggravated animal cruelty — one for each of 16 deep stab wounds and one for trapping the dog inside a suitcase.Prosecutors filed f...
Published: 12/09/17
Deputies: Friend didn’t pull trigger, still faces murder charge

Deputies: Friend didn’t pull trigger, still faces murder charge

TAMPA — A 23-year-old man faces a charge of felony murder in connection with a drug deal that left his friend dead, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Daundrea Lamar Butler is not accused of taking part in the killing, however. He ...
Published: 12/08/17
Bill would punish car theft victims

Bill would punish car theft victims

Left your car running, and a teen stole it?Some state lawmakers think you should be criminally charged for that.Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, this week filed House Bill 927, which would make it a second-degree misdemeanor to leave your car un...
Published: 12/08/17

Hernando sheriff: 27 dogs seized in chains, with no water or shelter

BROOKSVILLE — Twenty-seven dogs were seized Thursday after the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office said they were found tethered to heavy chains, without water or shelter.Deputies said they received several complaints about the dogs and ended up issuing...
Published: 12/08/17
Delgado gets 25 years in prison for role in 2015 Moon Lake triple murder

Delgado gets 25 years in prison for role in 2015 Moon Lake triple murder

NEW PORT RICHEY — Dora Delgado will spend the next 25 years in prison for shooting one person, who survived, and aiding in the shooting deaths of three other people in Moon Lake in February 2015.Delgado, 41, pleaded guilty Thursday morning to one cou...
Published: 12/08/17

Passenger dies after falling out of van in Plant City

PLANT CITY — A person was killed Friday after falling out of a van into the roadway, police said.The passenger, whose name and gender was not released, fell out of a van traveling north on Alexander Street near Interstate 4 about 3 p.m., according to...
Published: 12/08/17
Valrico man charged with attempted murder after trying to stab man in Seffner, deputies say

Valrico man charged with attempted murder after trying to stab man in Seffner, deputies say

SEFFNER — A 52-year-old Valrico man faces an attempted first degree murder charge after he repeatedly tried to stab a man last month, deputies said.Ronald C. Westendorf was arrested Tuesday on a warrant in Pinellas County and booked into the Hillsbor...
Published: 12/08/17