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Tender Loving Justice

Is this man a real athlete or just a lunatic?
Colby Katz

Zero tolerance is all the rage in law enforcement circles these days. Rule-breakers — even the puniest, least significant of them — get the book thrown at them. Marginally tipsy drivers? Grade-school kids with penknives? Pot-smoking grandmothers with cataracts? Cuff 'em, book 'em, and put 'em in a cell with a 300-pound dude named Spike.

Then there's the Wilton Manors Police Department, which takes a much more enlightened approach — especially if the rule-breaker involved happens to be a friend or relative of departmental brass or City Hall bigwigs.

Tailpipe was particularly touched by the department's handling of the case of Zachary Carroll. One evening last February, the lovable Florida Atlantic University junior drank 18 beers and went on a one-man car wrecking rampage in an FAU parking lot, bashing car windows and uprooting at least one side-view mirror. Just for the fun of it, of course. When campus cops got to the scene, the bear-like Carroll, who weighs 300 pounds and stands taller than six feet, spat on one officer and charged another. Officer Mary Ann Douglas pulled out her service revolver and shot Carroll twice.

Carroll, after recovering from his injuries, was expelled from the school; in lieu of jail time on charges of aggravated assault and resisting arrest, he agreed to participate in an 18-month "pretrial intervention" program.

Fine. The 'Pipe is all for keeping repentant young people out of the state corrections system, where they could easily get funneled onto that depressing criminal recidivist track.

But, you ask, what does this have to do with the Wilton Manors P.D.? Well, six weeks ago, who should show up at department headquarters as an intern/errand boy but a smiling, very repentant Zachary Carroll. Dismayed police officers were miffed not just at having in their midst an apparent criminal, there as part of his court-ordered community service requirement, but they expressed concern for the sanctity of police records.

"The officers feel really betrayed," one departmental source told this automotive part. "He's got access to all the reports. It's a stab in the heart for them."

The cops' cynicism about coddling young offenders was given a hefty jolt when they learned that Carroll is Police Chief Richard Perez's nephew.

The chief brushes off his officers' concerns, noting that, as of last Monday, Carroll is no longer with the department. "He just did odd jobs," Perez says, "whatever anybody needed him to do. He didn't do anything confidential. He filed papers. A lot of menial tasks. He didn't have access to anything that was confidential."

What about the appropriateness of assigning a would-be assailant on a police officer to do community service with a police department?

"What better way to say you're sorry?" Perez said.

Then there was Stephanie Newton's wobbly, brass-assisted route into law enforcement. The daughter of Wilton Manors Mayor Scott Newton, Stephanie, 23, couldn't pass the physical for employment by the Pembroke Pines P.D. After she either failed or opted out of her physical profile three times (once dropping out with a "swollen ankle," then failing the test twice, even after she had hired a personal trainer for seven weeks), she was dismissed as a Pembroke Pines trainee.

Then, fortuitously, the Wilton Manors P.D. agreed to sponsor her for the last three weeks of BCC police academy. Whatever else you say about Stephanie, she was consistent. The academy was willing to give her another shot at the test, but when the day arrived, she opted out again. She had been bitten on the knee by a brown recluse spider. (This is a once-in-a-lifetime excuse, and Tailpipe is filing it for an occasion when he really needs a day off.)

According to personnel documents, Stephanie finally met all state requirements and, fortuitously again, got assigned to the Broward Sheriff's Office. Her field training took place in peaceable Lauderdale-by-the-Sea — widely recognized as a cupcake assignment and, according to police sources, "unheard of" as a training ground.

Like a lot of other police departments, the Wilton Manors P.D. is roiled with morale problems. On September 17, most of the department's police officers took an informal vote, showing overwhelming support for the department's being absorbed by BSO. This week, the rank and file officially voted with two out of three favoring the BSO option. Some officers say they'd rather take their chances with BSO in contract negotiations. Others say the air of nepotism and cronyism in their department is just getting too thick to breathe.

Muffled Marathoner

Some marathon runners train at high altitudes so they can kick more ass at sea level. Some swim laps to build their stamina. Victoria Park's very own Dennis Marsella takes 20-mile runs down Las Olas and A1A wearing a pair of old, beat-up dress shoes and a heavy coat — to give himself superhuman powers.

For more than 20 years, the colorful high-on-lifer has competed in marathons across the nation wearing penny loafers, work boots, or even wingtip dress shoes (his standard). Oversized garments too: usually a thick denim jacket. As a pièce de résistance, he always runs holding a pizza box containing angel food cake topped with an apple cider vinegar bottle. (You gotta see it to believe it.)

"You can't miss me!" Marsella says.

His unique combination of distance running, modern dance, pranayama breathing techniques, and performance art makes good supermarket tabloid fodder (no Photoshopping required!). And though his body temperature rises precariously when he's running, he says it only makes him run harder.

"I feel great," he says. "Faster than ever. Not to brag or anything."

Using elements of tantric Buddhism to improve his marathon endurance, Marsella is part of a special, elite class known as "stunt runner." Via his alternate-nostril breathing methods, he claims to increase oxygen levels in his body by 33 percent. He's also into visualizing his chakras while running. He loves the word kundalini. At 54 years old, he has consistently finished in the top 25 percent of the races he competes in (back in July, he pulled off an impressive 4:06 in the San Francisco marathon).

Marsella says it's all part of his "ongoing research into human potential."

The Coatman, as he's affectionately known in runner's circles, will run his 22nd New York City marathon on November 5. Give the muffled wonder man a wave next time you see him shambling past. And hands off the angel food.

Snakes and Ladders

Tailpipe was chugging happily southward down I-95 last Friday evening through Fort Lauderdale's rush hour when suddenly there appeared a long, silvery object — a ladder!?! — sliding down the freeway's middle lanes, like a snake caught among stampeding bulls.

Even as Tailpipe conceived of this ingenious metaphor, his ninja-quick reflexes sent his little car careering to the left, narrowly avoiding the ladder. But a mere mortal, driving a Toyota Camry, was not so lucky. Hemmed in by cars on both sides, with the ladder's broad side directly in front of it, the Camry took it head on. The tires made a huge POP!, sending up plumes of smoke, and the shards of the ladder raked a shower of sparks from the Camry's undercarriage.

Another failed attempt to assassinate South Florida's most daring columnist? Maybe. But after conducting a little research, a new possibility emerged: This may have been accidental. Indeed, Maggie Ramos, vice president of Sunshine Towing, which contracts with the state for the job of clearing road debris, says stray ladders on the freeway are a common occurrence.

"The biggest road debris we have is ladders," says Ramos, whose company patrols Broward and Palm Beach counties. "We probably pick up six to ten ladders a week on the freeway."

The pickup process is fraught with danger, Ramos says. When a report comes into the office of the Florida Highway Patrol, Road Rangers are dispatched, often with a police escort. The squad car will turn on its lights, then weave between lanes as a way of slowing traffic. Upon arriving at the ladder — or lawn chair or mattress or sofa — it will stop so that a courageous Road Ranger can hustle out of his vehicle to haul the obstacle off the freeway.

She suggests that drivers confronted with a major road hazard like a ladder resist the impulse to swerve and especially to brake. "Sometimes," Ramos says, "it's better to not even try to avoid it because you can overcorrect and make an accident that's much worse than the first one."

Four flat tires is better than a 40-car pile-up.

The only people who can really control this problem are the ones hauling poorly secured ladders in their trucks and jumping on the freeway. "It happens every day on the roads," Ramos says. "People should take responsibility for their equipment, and that will make the highways a safer place."

Get with it, South Florida. Tailpipe, who used to live in Los Angeles, remembers morning traffic reports about freeway obstructions such as live stud bulls and three-part sectionals and a shipment of small change spread across five lanes. The 'Pipe looks forward to the time when South Florida graduates from ladders to the challenging stuff.

— As told to Edmund Newton


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