It's a quiet Wednesday evening, and in a nice home in a nice residential area of northwest Homestead, Fla., a neighborhood Crime Watch group is holding its first meeting.
Addressing the citizens are the Homestead chief of police, Curt Ivy, and the police department's Crime Prevention Officer, Charlie Crumpler. They're standing on a nice patio next to a nice pool. They're talking about the kinds of things the citizens should be on the lookout for, the clues that might indicate possible criminal activity.Chief Ivy is saying that this is a pretty quiet area, where not much illegal activity goes on. But the chief is having a little trouble making his point, because of the engine noise from a low-flying plane.
"So I look up," Ivy recalled later, "and this plane is coming, and it's low. It's VERY low. Then I see a package come sailing down."
And of course the package turns out to be a 75-pound bale of cocaine. Falling out of the sky. During a CRIME WATCH MEETING.
This would not happen in any normal place. This probably would not happen in a work of fiction.
"It's too unbelieveable!" an editor would say. "It would never happen!"
Except in south Florida, where EVERYTHING seems to happen; where a twin-engine plane fleeing from U.S. Customs aircraft dropped half a ton of cocaine bales before landing at the Homestead General Aviation Airport, where the two men in the plane were arrested.
In other cities, it's big news - press-conference time - when police capture somebody on the ground with a few measly little bags of cocaine. Here we have cocaine packages the size of Pee-wee Herman falling out of the sky.
SOUTH FLORIDA CRIMESTOPPER TIP: Stay indoors.
Guess where another bale landed. Think hard now; remember that this is south Florida, which makes Oz look like Peoria.
That's right: The bale hit a church. This is the South Dade Baptist Church, on Southwest 296th Street. The church's maintenance man, Paul Couey, was standing outside when it happened.
"I saw this plane being followed by a (U.S. Customs) jet," he recalled. "I said, `Good night! They're too low!' They were maybe 30 feet higher than the STEEPLE. Then I saw something kicked out the side."
This bale was MOVING. It smashed into the ground a few feet from the church school building, bounced sideways into a building column, knocked off a chunk of masonry, then spun out into the parking lot, narrowly missing a group of people and slamming into a Cadillac about 100 feet from original point of impact.
The car was dented. Imagine explaining THAT to your insurance agent.
AGENT: Were drugs involved in this accident?
CAR OWNER: Well, ummm . . .
Wait! There's more! Another bale, according to a Customs Service press release, "was seen going through the roof of a home in the (Homestead) area." As of Thursday afternoon, Customs had not confirmed this, but if it's true, we can only hope that the homeowners were law-abiding citizens, not the kind of people who would be tempted by the sudden arrival in their residence of a narcotics bundle worth roughly $1 million. ("Whoa, Martha! FORGET about the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes!")
If a drug bale did go through a roof, it wouldn't be the first time. In 1981, a man was sleeping on a sofa in a trailer in South Broward County, and he got up early in the morning to go to the bathroom. While he was in there, a 100-pound bale of marijuana came crashing through the roof into the room he had just left.
"If I had stayed where I was," the man said, "I would have been wiped out."
REVISED SOUTH FLORIDA CRIME-STOPPER TIP: Stay indoors and UNDER the bed.
But back to the cocaine: Customs recovered 16 bales and searched for an estimated four more out in the Everglades. Let's hope the bales are recovered before they fall into the hands of the criminal element, or, worse, wildlife. All we need is a sudden onslaught of jittery alligators wearing beepers and a lot of gold jewelry.
And if you think that sounds far-fetched, you've never lived in south Florida.