Crashing Glass

The aftermath of a freak accident: shattered windows and two broken families

"I asked the kids, 'What would Kemar ask you to do?' It sure wouldn't be to be angry or destroy property."

By the next night, the restaurant's remaining glass windows, front door, and sign had been smashed. A huge chunk of concrete was found by police in the kitchen.

Who did the damage? "Somebody," Cheung says enigmatically. "Maybe the boy's family or his friends from school, they broke the windows. Two more times. I have to pay for someone to fix that -- insurance did not pay for glass."

Top: After Kemar was injured, he tried to make it home but collapsed in the street. 


Bottom left: The broken window was at least 20 years old. 


Bottom right: Kemar's wounds were lethal.
David W. Brill
Top: After Kemar was injured, he tried to make it home but collapsed in the street.

Bottom left: The broken window was at least 20 years old.

Bottom right: Kemar's wounds were lethal.

Top: Boarded-up windows at Shanghai Garden covered with goodbyes to Kemar 


Bottom: Alex Francois visits Kemar's grave to honor his 18th birthday.
Top: Boarded-up windows at Shanghai Garden covered with goodbyes to Kemar

Bottom: Alex Francois visits Kemar's grave to honor his 18th birthday.


Kemar's funeral later that week all but emptied out Stranahan's senior class. An estimated 800 attendees meant some had to sit outside the church.

"All those girls at school," Sheila sighs. "The girls even kiss him in his casket."

Erroll Fraser, Kemar's stepfather, breaks into a guilty smile and says softly, "He didn't have a girlfriend, but every girl in school was his friend, you know what I mean?"

Employees and friends from the nearby Boys and Girls Club where Kemar had been a cheerful fixture for years came out in flocks.

On a break from monitoring younger teens at the club, 17-year-old Alex Francois visits Kemar's grave just before the cemetery closes. The two had been best friends since they too used to play basketball at Riverland Elementary together.

"I just came out to wish Kemar a happy birthday," he says above the buzz of a weed whacker. He's wearing a white T-shirt with Kemar's picture printed on it, above his nickname, Top Flight.

In Ice Cube's movie Friday After Next, unarmed Top Flight Security guards must rely upon the only means of enforcement they have -- whistles. Kemar thought it was the funniest thing in the world to walk around Stranahan's hallways, blowing that whistle on fictional perpetrators.

Francois cups that same whistle softly in his hand as he says a prayer over his friend's grave.

He dials his cell phone, calls the Fraser home, and speaks to Kemar's older brother, Ricky.

"Everybody OK over there?" he asks. "Is that your mom crying?"

All week, Francois has been close to tears himself, keeping a Xerox photo of Kemar on the dashboard of his Honda, listening to Rest in Peace songs. The last time he hung out with Kemar was during that Thanksgiving break, sitting on a friend's front porch. Kemar was laughing his head off about something.

"You know how, when somebody dies, everybody's always like, 'He was a great person,' you know?" Francois begins. "Kemar was the one person you could honestly say that about. I know that's kind of a cliché. He was just the kind of person you always want to be around."

Francois worries about Kemar's younger brothers, who have drifted into depressive states.

"They're holding it back, and when I see them, I'm holding it back with 'em," he says. At Kemar's funeral, it was a different story.

"I tried to be strong," he says. "But I feel like I lost a brother."

Kennedy still remembers the Friday before Thanksgiving vacation, when Kemar poked his head in her office and asked when she would begin teaching her introductory driver's ed class. He couldn't wait to drive.

"I'll do one in the neighborhood, yo," she said, affecting the silly faux-street lingo that kept Kemar in stitches. "Just get wit' me over the holidays."

That was the last time they spoke.


Almost six months after Kemar's death, the two families are struggling back to normality.

On February 8, a car heading west on Davie Boulevard crashed into Shanghai Garden. The car plowed through roof supports and knocked the front door into the lobby. Neither the driver, a 32-year-old Fort Lauderdale woman named Marie Amelia Julme, nor her three children, aged 11, 13, and 14, were seriously injured.

Julme told police her kids, fighting in the car, had distracted her. "The next thing she knew, she had hit the building," the crash report states. Fort Lauderdale police ticketed her for failure to use due care and driving with a learner's permit. Cheung says police told him the car was traveling as fast as 75 mph.

Had the Cheungs been behind the counter, the outcome could have been deadly: The area where the cash register and phone sat was demolished. Luckily, it was only 10:30 on a Sunday morning, and Shanghai Garden didn't open until 1 p.m.

"It was her brother's car, and she didn't have insurance," Cheung explains. "I can't believe it. If she had insurance, we could have gotten money that way."

After wrangling with his own insurance company and his landlords, renovations and repairs have begun, and Cheung hopes to have the restaurant back in business sometime in July.

"We'll see," he says. "I hope they finish soon so I can reopen. I've lost a lot of money and a lot of business." But he knows he has a steep climb, as many of his loyal customers have undoubtedly moved on.

Bill Cheung understands Sheila's hostility. "Yeah," he says. "Because she lose her son, you know." However, he isn't exactly apologizing for what happened.

"It was an accident," he says. "Even the police say the boy hit the window. Somebody said he was trying to scare my daughter, and somebody said he was bouncing a basketball.

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