Beach Beat

When Chris Caulfield got stomped near South Florida's most notorious nightclub, he didn't roll over

"Hard town -- Pittsburgh," one of them replied.

"Well, this is Florida, and we're having a good time," Chris said.

Then the other one hit him in the face.

Going after his son's attackers was nothing new for Max Caulfield. He does such things for a living.
Michael McElroy
Going after his son's attackers was nothing new for Max Caulfield. He does such things for a living.

"You from Pittsburgh too, huh?" Chris asked him, rubbing his face and smiling. He was so high that the punch felt good. His weird reaction confused them. So the guy hit him again, but Chris simply smiled once more. The attackers finally walked away, shaking their heads.

Chris revels in his stories of turning violence upside down. He says he once confronted a kid on the beach named Henry McGonical, who said something he didn't like. "I was rolling, and I got into his face and said, "You got a problem?' He swung, and he got me. I just looked at him and said, "OK, I'm done. We got off on the wrong foot, and you hit me. Who cares? You want to smoke some weed?'"

Chris says he's trying to slow down his drug use these days, especially after what happened to McGonical, whom he ultimately befriended. At a party April 9, the 19-year-old McGonical overdosed on a mixture of pills and beer, then choked to death on his vomit. Broward medical examiners are awaiting toxicology reports.

For Chris, Henry's death illustrates the fine line between a good time and mortal danger. His March 18 beach beating falls into the same category. It wasn't any fun at all. After his nose was broken, roughly 45 minutes passed before medics arrived to treat him. He left a puddle of blood on A1A. His hospital stay was agonizing. Doctors inserted balloons and other painful objects into his nose to open his nasal passages. He had to stay 48 hours because the bleeding wouldn't stop. He missed a week's work, and his face was swollen and discolored for days.

The alleged crime was aggravated battery, a felony offense, but the police never followed up on Chris's complaint. There was no investigation, even though the department has stepped up its presence on the beach and promised to crack down on violent offenses, which nearly doubled last year. Department spokesman Mike Reed concedes more should have been done about Chris's battery case. "It was never forwarded to anybody," Reed says. "It should have been given to a detective."

Max, who drove Chris to the hospital and held his hand during some of the most painful moments, says he and his son spent hours trying to reach detectives without success. Messages weren't returned.

So the Caulfields have decided to find Dreads and the other attackers themselves. The plan is simple: return to the scene of the crime.

While Chris waits in his father's apartment on the night of Friday, March 30, the short and stocky Max puts on his gear. He straps a holster on his right hip and inserts a high-caliber automatic pistol. Behind the gun he conceals a collapsible steel baton. Then he puts on his black, bulletproof, Kevlar vest, which makes him look even more barrel-chested than he actually is.

On his left side hangs a pair of triple-hinged handcuffs. He gets into his blue 1995 Chevy Caprice, a car that formerly belonged to the sheriff's department of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The vehicle is equipped with an LT1 police engine (similar to that in a Corvette), as well as a heavy-duty transmission, exhaust, and suspension. It also boasts a high-powered spotlight, a mobile scanner, a two-way radio, a speakerphone, emergency and strobe lights, and a PA system with a 100-watt speaker under the hood. It's all just part of Max's business equipment. He works for defense attorney Steve Rossi, a former FBI agent, helping to find holes in criminal cases. The job pays the bills, but Max says he'd much rather put away criminals than help get them off the hook. "If the police do their job properly, then there's nothing for me to do," he notes.

Max is certain police weren't doing their job properly in his son's case. That's why the pair is going to the beach, where Chris will mingle while Max waits nearby. If Chris spots any of his attackers, he'll call Max on a cell phone and identify them.

By the time they arrive in front of Club Atlantis, it's 12:40 a.m. The beach is strangely quiet for an early Saturday morning because police earlier raided the club and arrested its manager. The raid was just part of an ongoing battle between the city and Atlantis, which officials largely blame for the area's crime surge.

While Max sits on the beach wall across from the darkened Atlantis, Chris stands roughly 15 yards away, talking to some kids he knows on the wide beach walk. After less than five minutes, a tall black youth with dreadlocks strolls by. Max recognizes that the kid matches Chris's description of Dreads, but this guy doesn't appear violent in the least. Rather he is a study in cool. Thin and standing about six foot four, he has a Walkman CD player attached to his baggy denim shorts and headphones in his ears. He wears a T-shirt and an unbuttoned, short-sleeve blue shirt that billows in the sea breeze. His feet sport big, light brown suede boots with a thick plastic tread.

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