Dead Man Driving

Alvaro Diaz-Rubio

Tailpipe is pretty nimble when it comes to scooting across busy city streets, but this smoke-spewing cylinder was scared as hell the other day at the corner of Pines Boulevard and Flamingo Road in Pembroke Pines. It was right here, on August 8, that 65-year-old Miami Herald vendor Robert Paul Herman was struck by a car and mortally injured, becoming unofficially the 15th newspaper hawker fatality in the past 15 years. (Nobody except us keeps count.) Perch yourself on a narrow median in the midst of a torrent of roaring, caffeine-fueled morning traffic, and you begin to understand why peddling periodicals rates among South Florida's most dangerous profession.

It was not yet 6 a.m., Herman's friends recall, when it happened. The vendor, in the Herald's neon-green vest, was hauling his papers across five lanes of traffic, from the northeast corner of the intersection to his designated spot in the middle of Pines Boulevard. Darkness was a big factor, says Rosie David, 46, who was hawking to cars heading north on Flamingo Road that morning. "The street lights were out," she says. "Poom! He got hit big time." She points to a spot where a line of cars zooms past the intersection. "He was bleeding there on the ground with bones sticking out. He didn't look like he was going to survive."

Just before the crash, Jeff Zeigler, another Herald hawker, had been talking to Herman, the new guy on the job. Ziegler, who mans the Pines Boulevard median west of Herman's, turned just in time to see the green Toyota do its damage. "I saw him go flying, the papers go flying," Zeigler says. "I still see it in my head. People keep asking me about it, but I'd rather forget it."

An ambulance took Herman to Memorial Regional Hospital, where he died a few hours later. The driver of the Toyota, Victor Todosi, was treated at the hospital for minor injuries. Todosi hasn't been charged with anything, but Pembroke Pines cops are still investigating. Capt. Keith Palant would say only that when the collision occurred, the Toyota had a green light.

The newspaper-hawking business is a thankless job, short on earnings and long on physical danger ("I call myself a PCD -- professional car dodger," Zeigler says). So will the Herald, South Florida's largest newspaper, take care of Herman's medical and funeral expenses, as his buddies expect?

Probably not. Herman wasn't a Herald employee, Herald general counsel Robert Beatty points out. He worked for an independent contractor. "The nature of the hawkers' relationship with their employer -- that's between them and their employer."

So, let's see. That means the paper feels no particular obligation to help the family? Tailpipe could hear the muffled sounds of a man squirming on the other end of the line.

"Um, the Herald does whatever it can to assist the vendors' families," he said. Meaning what? "That's it. The Herald does whatever it can."

If Tailpipe had eyes, a tear or two would well up at the Herald's inspiring generosity of spirit. As for paying the bills -- it's time for the Herman family to start passing the cup.

Old law enforcement axiom: When you can't find a cop, check the nearest donut shop. But overestimating policemen's predilection for those tasty deep-fried rings of cake can invite disaster. Michael Matakaetis was allegedly driving on Dixie Highway in Stuart last month with an open bottle of Captain Morgan Rum in his Lexus when a cop pulled him over. Drunk past the point of compromised judgment, Matakaetis, who's 23, decided he'd try an unorthodox bribe -- a handful of Dunkin' Donuts coupons. "You can have these if you just let me park the car, and I'll go home," the inebriated man told the officers, according to news reports. After flailing helplessly during the ensuing battery of roadside sobriety tests, a defeated Matakaetis gave up after being asked to stand on one leg, croaking, "Just take me to jail."

Once there, Matakaetis failed to smarten up. Telling the arresting officer, "You'll catch a bullet... you're done, you should've let me go" didn't endear him to Martin County Jail staff, who videotaped him as they tried to test his blood alcohol level. Matakaetis' reward? One charge of DUI and another of corruption by threat.

Since Matakaetis' daddy is a donut mogul, hard at work overseeing the spread of his Dunkin' Donuts franchises throughout South Florida, his assumption that the coupons are just as valuable as cash is understandable. His flaw, it seems, is failing to recognize that police are largely Krispy Kreme men. Matakaetis simply had the bad luck to be born the son of the wrong donut chain.

Available at left: Tailpipe's handy Clip 'n' Save coupon for freeing yourself from the coppers' grasp. At press time, tristate murder sprees were still exempt.

Dear South Floridians: Our very own beloved smut peddler is in trouble. Al Goldstein, the Pompano Beach mogul who built a 12-foot-tall erect middle finger on the Intracoastal Waterway, has begun to auction off his unique collectibles on eBay in an effort to save his Screw magazine. Founded in 1968, Screw, like its, ummm, classier competitor Penthouse, has had trouble wooing readers from goofy, glitzy lad mags like Maxim and FHM.

Al needs your help. So log on to eBay and start bidding on Goldstein's items today. There's the Sammy Davis Jr. soda machine ("Working!") starting at $13,000. Or maybe you're a cigar smoker like the fat man. Take a look at the pornographer's many humidors on the online auction block: the George Burns humidor ($20,000), the Yankel Ginzburg humidor ($27,000), the Thomas Jefferson humidor ($29,000), and the Milton Berle humidor, which comes complete with a letter from the actor himself ($10,000). As of this writing, no one had bid on any of Goldstein's items.

But that doesn't surprise Tailpipe. Isn't it, after all, supposed to be the sex that sells?

Nobody's more thrilled about the Marlins' recent success than this emissions-clearing tube. The Fish are jumpin', all right. Until now, though, nobody has written the true story of the team's remarkable surge. Tailpipe's sources say it's not the great pitching or the timely hitting. It's what goes on in front of a kosher hot dog stand on the second level, in front of Gate 149, at Pro Player Stadium. Right there, just before sunset on game days, a small band of Jews gathers for prayer. Hollywood accountant David Goldis usually pulls together a minyan (a quorum of ten men) from among spectators and vendors, often using Marlins-inscribed paper napkins provided by the hot dog stand as yarmulkes. It's a simple inelegant service. The men face the parking lot, close their eyes, and recite their evening prayers.

Now, Goldis and friends aren't claiming any credit for the Marlins' success. It's just a religious obligation they're satisfying, they say. "You're supposed to pray three times a day," says Goldis, who hands out miniprayer books, soon to be inscribed with the team's logo. "If you're here, you obviously can't leave to go to synagogue." But a few of the participants admit that the matter at hand on the field sometimes sneaks into their little service. So it was the other day, when in a game the Marlins eventually won in the 13th inning, Mike Lowell blasted a two-run single to right in the middle of prayers.

"See," 19-year-old Mordy Schachter said, "my intentions worked today."

-- As told to Edmund Newton

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