By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Duane Brown has been dreaming for a week now, so it's certainly possible that this vision he's seeing is the start of a new one. There's a doctor standing over him. He can see the man's outline and white coat, though what he sees must be clouded by a concussion and a morphine drip. Brown has tubes running into his nose and down his arms, and he has suction cups across his chest. Bandages cover him just about everywhere. He's connected down there to a catheter, but his bladder doesn't know that. "Can I go to the bathroom?" he asks numbly.
"No," the doctor answers. Brown can't quite make out his face. "Take it easy. You can't walk."
"You can't get up. You lost your leg."
That can't be true. Brown can feel it there where it's supposed to be. He can feel his toes tingling. But he doesn't have enough strength to sit up and look for himself. He runs his hand limply down his body -- to prove to himself that both his legs are there. His hand moves slowly past his hip and onto his thigh. He's lost a lot of weight lying in this hospital bed, the once-bulky six-foot frame now down to 175 pounds. Slowly, he moves his hand across the leg.
A few inches down, his hand falls to the sheets. His fingertips run along the bandaged rough edge of what little of his right leg is left.
Brown wants to ask how and why, but sleep hits him again, perhaps for days. There are dreams of a car chase. Brown's hazy visions give him no answers about his leg. He wakes up again to hear his mother, Margaret Green, on the hospital room phone. "No, he didn't lose an eye," she's telling someone on the other line. "He ain't blind. He lost his leg." She pauses to hear a response. "People've been saying all kinds of things about him, like he lost both his arms."
Lying there, listening to the chug of the respirator keeping him alive, he tries to dig memories out of his cloudy mind. He sees images sometimes of that Saturday back in June of 2002, and the details start falling into place. He was making his twice-a-month trip from his home in Stuart to the flea market on 45th Street in West Palm Beach. He can remember that much for sure. Porsha Davis, his 18-year-old girlfriend, was there. And so was Jerome Maynor, an old friend. At 24 years old, Brown was working for a pressure-washing company and saving money by living with his parents. He fixed up old cars on the weekends and had $2,800 in his pocket from selling a couple of them. He had his eye on a Dixie Chopper lawn mower, one of those sit-on-top ones that a dealer in West Palm sells for a few thousand. A big mower like that might have gotten Brown started in the lawn care business, and he was supposed to take a look at a few models after the flea market trip.
Then he remembers the sirens of the police chasing them. Maynor, recently released from prison, is behind the wheel, Brown says. "I'm not going back," Maynor tells him urgently.
Brown wakes again to see another doctor in front of him. "What happened to them?" he asks. "You know, the people in my car."
There had been a drug deal, the doctor says. The police chased his car. And the whole thing ended in an explosion fit for a television cop show. "You," the doctor explains dryly, "were driving." As for his friends, "They didn't make it."
Stunned, Brown tries to process that. What about his leg? What happened to it? The doctor shrugs. Who knows? It may have been amputated at the hospital. Maybe it was lost at the scene of the crash.
It takes a month for the cops to get around to visiting Brown at St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach. Finally, Matt King, a traffic homicide investigator with the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, shows up. As King tells it, he walked into the hospital room and Brown immediately spit out that he "was just driving down the road." King turned on his tape recorder, but Brown said nothing more along those lines. Brown was still dazed. He could barely speak a coherent sentence through the painkillers, according to a transcript of the tape. Still, King read Brown his rights and asked him to read them back to him. "Yeah, I can read," Brown said, "but I can't, I can't say that I was the one driving." Brown asked for his attorney and King left, giving no more explanation about what happened or whether Brown would face charges.
For Brown, the hazy months in a hospital bed, the blurry sightings of the people around him, the fragments of memories of the events leading up to his hospitalization, the lost leg -- it had all begun to look like a 1940s noir movie, a black-and-white nightmare. As he slept, the dazed amputee in the hospital bed had somehow been transformed from an enterprising young man with a knack for getting old jalopies up and running into a police suspect. Incredibly for Brown, he had been targeted as the driver in a reckless car chase at three-digit speeds, the heedless destroyer of two other lives, a probable drug dealer.