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Fish Bites Man

'Twas the day after Christmas in 1998 when John boarded the Robin's Song at Fort Lauderdale's storied Bahia Mar marina. The 51-year-old mate had plenty of experience in bagging big game fish, but he surely never expected what followed.

After the boat left port, somebody hooked a wahoo. It was a beautiful catch, about four feet long and feisty. Once the fish was flipped over the side, it started to act up. According to a lawsuit John filed a year later against the boat's owner, Sheila Blackman, the wahoo, which "was extremely wild at the time of capture and... had razor sharp teeth, arced off a gaff and onto [John's] right foot in transit to the fish box, biting [John] on his right instep." The wound was deep, says John's lawyer, Peter Commette. (Commette asked New Times not to use John's last name. John didn't return repeated calls seeking comment.) The wicked acanthocybium solanderi had torn into the top and side of the seaman's foot.

If a picture in the court file is to be believed, the folks onboard didn't take the wound too seriously. They posed for a smiling photo with the mouthy monster. The boat's crew waited at least five minutes before taking care of John, Commette says. "Certainly, first aid was rendered to the wahoo; it was beaten senseless," the lawyer comments. "When the peroxide was poured onto John's wound, the reaction was so strong that the stuff shot up into the air. [John's] foot was three times its normal size."

When the Robin's Song returned to port, eight fishermen carried John to a car and whisked him to Broward General. He stayed eight days.

The case, which claimed "loss of the enjoyment of life and permanent scarring," wended through Broward courts for months. Blackman hired a lawyer, Jonathan William Skipp, who later pulled out of the case. Commette proposed a settlement, but no accord was reached, so the dispute finally went to trial this past December.

Now, John's testimony must have been pretty convincing. Or Blackman's lack of defense peeved the jury. At any rate, the six jurors awarded the seaman $342,159.38. Only a small part was for medical treatment and lost wages. A whopping $250,000 related to "physical and emotional pain and emotional suffering," according to court records. "It was compelling to see how it affected his life," Commette says.

We were astonished to hear of a guilty plea last week by the top dog at one of our favorite newspapers: The Digest. We were even more surprised to see nary a word about the plea in the South Broward weekly's pages.

In case you missed it: Digest publisher Daniel Bluesten was charged this past April with illegally removing $143,451 from his own and employee retirement accounts between 1996 and 1999. On January 17, he pleaded guilty to two charges: making a $20,000 withdrawal and falsifying information on a financial report in 1996. His lawyer, Hilliard Moldof, said Bluesten did it "to keep the paper afloat," according to the Sun-Sentinel.

So how come the publisher's plea didn't show up in the Digest's pages? "We wouldn't put that in there," says editor Larry Bluestein, Daniel's cousin. "It's not like something you go out of your way to talk about. It didn't affect anyone outside our newspaper."

Then he offers a more tantalizing defense: that executives of the Miami Herald and the Sun-Sentinel have been caught with their hands in the piggy jar, yet those papers have never publicized it. "I could tell you about things that have happened at those papers," he says.

"Like what exactly?" we ask.

"I'm not saying," he responds.

Last month, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ed Bieluch announced his dubious plan to spend more than $5 million to build antiterrorist headquarters in Boca Raton (See "A Bunker in Boca," Ashley Fantz, December 6).

As if that weren't bad enough, get a load of Bieluch's latest slap in the face of fiscal sanity: a plan to buy a half-million-dollar bus that would serve as a "mobile command center." Good for hostage negotiations, missing-children searches, and even the county fair, according to the department.

When we called Palm Beach County commissioner and Bieluch supporter Mary McCarty for comment, even she was taken aback. She said that the Palm Beach county commission has little say over Bieluch's spending, but that "it appears to me as a civilian that he is interested in buying every toy in the book, that he is looking at the want-to-haves rather than need-to-haves."

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Chuck Strouse is the former editor in chief of Miami New Times. He has shared two Pulitzer Prizes and won dozens of other awards. He is an honors graduate of Brown University and has worked at newspapers including the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times.
Contact: Chuck Strouse

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