Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Opinion

Face-eating zombie? Of course it's Miami

All of us who live in Florida struggle to explain this bizarre place to distant friends and family.

The task got somewhat easier after the 2000 presidential election, which showcased the state's unique style of dysfunction to a vast international audience. Since then, people who live elsewhere seem not so easily mortified by anything that happens here.

Take the dreadful case of the naked cannibal.

I'd be willing to bet that in no other city but Miami would the following quote appear matter-of-factly in a crime story: "Rudy was not a face-eating zombie monster."

Those words come from a high school friend of Rudy Eugene, who chewed the flesh off a homeless man's face on Memorial Day weekend. Eugene first removed his own clothes and then tore off the trousers of his victim, 65-year-old Ronald Poppo.

The gruesome biting attack, reported by passersby, took about 18 minutes. It didn't end until Eugene was shot to death by a police officer and physically separated from the gravely injured Poppo.

All this occurred on a Saturday morning on a ramp of the MacArthur Causeway, practically within fast-break distance of the American Airlines Arena where the Miami Heat plays.

Naturally the gory assault was captured on video by security cameras mounted on the Miami Herald building. And naturally it's all over the Internet.

For a nontabloid headline writer, the perverse facts of the crime make it almost impossible not to sensationalize. The case is grotesque even by the extreme standards of South Florida.

In my many years of working for the Miami Herald, I can't honestly recall anything quite so demented occurring in broad daylight at such a public location.

Numerous heinous crimes have a nude perpetrator or a nude victim, and occasionally both. At least one murder case I remember involved a grim bit of cannibalism. But the combination of nudity and cannibalism along a busy highway should be, well, shocking.

Which isn't a word often heard when journalists who cover Miami get together and tell stories. People down here do things that are sick, warped, disgusting, twisted — but rarely shocking. Not anymore.

However, a zombielike face-eating attack would be major news in any city. And had it happened in Des Moines or Spokane, the worldwide reaction would have been one of plain revulsion.

The initial response to the MacArthur Causeway bloodbath was the same kind of horror, but then — after the dateline was noted — almost a sigh of relief. Oh, this was in Miami? Well, that explains it.

Even some New Yorkers I know, who read daily about strange and violent events in their own ZIP code, expressed the view that South Florida would have been their first guess as the location for a nude face-eating incident.

Is it the vibe of this place that promotes such a bounty of derangement, or do the deranged simply move here for the vibe?

The subject frequently comes up in interviews. It's a legitimate question — how to account for the unrelenting weirdness?

Reporters looking at the life of Rudy Eugene have found a pot-smoking, Bible-reading guy with money problems and a relatively minor rap sheet. So far there is no indication that the 31-year-old man was fixated on zombie lore, werewolves, vampires or Hannibal Lecter.

The most likely explanation for Eugene's vicious behavior was a dose of bad drugs. A police officer speculated it was LSD, which in the old days wasn't famous for causing spontaneous cannibalism. Maybe there's a new version on the streets. Another widely suggested culprit is "bath salts," synthetic crystals sold in some convenience stores that can cause hallucinations and violent outbursts.

Still another possibility is that Eugene wasn't high on anything. Perhaps he suffered a severe mental breakdown before confronting Poppo, who had lived on the streets for four decades and had his own problems with the law.

The autopsy's toxicology report will provide some answers, but it won't get South Florida off the hook.

Whatever factors compelled Eugene to strip naked and gnaw on another man's face, the hideous crime truly could have occurred anyplace where there's bad dope and mental illness — which is to say, anyplace.

It didn't, though.

And as the story (complete with video) continues to rocket through the blogs, posts and tweets, the lack of disbelief resonates.

Of course it's Miami. Where else?

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

© 2012 Miami Herald

Comments
Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Legislation that waters down the 2010 Dodd-Frank law and was sent to President Donald Trump this week is a mixed bag at best. Some provisions recognize that Congress may have gone too far in some areas in the wake of the Great Recession to place new ...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Another voice: The chutzpah of these men

A new phase of the #MeToo movement may be upon us. Call it the "not so fast" era: Powerful men who plotted career comebacks mere months after being taken down by accusations of sexual misconduct now face even more alarming claims.Mario Batali, the ce...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital has begun the important work of rebuilding trust with its patients and the community following revelations of medical errors and other problems at its Heart Institute. CEO Dr. Jonathan Ellen candidly acknowledges...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/23/18
Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institution’s lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18