Longform

Missing Leg

Page 3 of 6

Turchin explains what happened next: "Brown raced off the highway and onto a city street," where Wood lost sight of him as he hit speeds exceeding 100 mph. The road curves right on 45th Street, just before a Blockbuster; the driver of the Toyota made a tactical mistake there, trying to squeeze through a tight spot between a Dodge Intrepid and a Toyota Corolla. Instead, Brown's car sideswiped both cars. Careening out of control, his Toyota slammed into a concrete utility pole at an estimated 104 mph. Wood showed up seconds later. "It was horrific," she explains on the show.

The sheer force of the collision ejected Brown and Maynor. Brown landed just feet in front of the car, perhaps after bouncing off the pole. The jarring ejection tore his right leg into shreds. Maynor made out worse. He lost the bottom half of both legs and flew 20 feet forward. He landed on a concrete driveway.

The impact split the mast-like pole near its base, and the electric lines were straining to hold it from falling in the street. The Toyota caught fire on impact, incinerating Brown's girlfriend, Davis. The cruisers' video cameras show one brave cop trying unsuccessfully to douse the flames with an extinguisher. When the lines can't take any more of the pole's weight, several of them snap, landing on the flaming car. The wires and the flames combine into a massive explosion. Flames shoot up two stories, catching a mango tree on fire overhead. "Duane Brown would be the only survivor," Turchin concludes, "of the disaster cops say he caused."

Next, there's an interview with investigator King. "I never thought in a million years," King says, "that in Duane Brown's condition that he would be able to flee."

"But Matt got the shock of his career," the reporter breaks in, "when he called the hospital several weeks later to check on Duane Brown's condition. He learned his one-legged suspect was gone."

The show cuts to an interview with an expert in artificial limbs who explains how to spot the limp and sound the prosthetic leg makes when Brown walks. An amputee, maybe -- but, the correspondent warns, he's dangerous. "The ones that he killed," King says, "were his girlfriend and his best friend. And it could've been anybody."



On the Monday following the show, Brown turns himself in at the sheriff's office. America's Most Wanted runs a follow-up explaining that "Duane Brown is no longer limping from the law."

For Brown, it's as if his guilt is already decided. The show claims he's a fugitive from justice and a killer, and now he faces two counts of vehicular homicide.

"It was like it was happening to somebody else or something," Brown remembers of his first days in jail. "I mean, it was like a dream or something and I woke up as somebody else. I thought, 'This is it.' I mean, I didn't know if they were ever gonna let me out." It seemed over for him. At least until the state started building its case.


One question the show didn't address is whether there had been a high-speed pursuit. The West Palm Beach Police Department forbids such chases, unless a suspect is armed or otherwise poses a danger. Officer Wood notes in the television episode that she made the quick decision to break off the chase, as per department policy. But radio communications, recorded that day and available in court documents, tell a different story. Evidence of a chase may not prove Brown's innocence, but it could show that authorities bear part of the responsibility for the high speeds of the wrecked car, attorney Rosendahl says. "They should not have been chasing him that day, period," she says. "It shows, at the least, that these officers are unreliable."

After the three cop cars follow the Toyota onto 45th, West Palm Sgt. Daniel Henry asks for an update. "Did you try blue lighting already, and he's not stopping?"

"Ten-four," responds Wood, who had never been in a high-speed chase before. "He's not stopping. Just crossed Congress [Avenue]."

There's no indication from the encounter in the KFC parking lot that the Toyota's occupants are dangerous, but the task force clearly wants this bust. Among those who seem most interested is Brian Kapper, one of the department's most active antidrug agents. Early in the pursuit, Kapper tells the other officers that the Toyota's occupants are "possibly signal zero," the code for armed with a gun.

Henry, using a radio at police headquarters, isn't satisfied with Kapper's claim. With Wood's cruiser, Kapper's unmarked Taurus, and another patrol car tailing the Toyota on 45th, Henry asks them, "You got a supervisor with you?"

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Eric Alan Barton
Contact: Eric Alan Barton