Near dawn on Wednesday, January 21, Glades airboat captain Jesse Kennon was jolted awake by the whirring of helicopter blades over his roof. His first thought: That sounds like Rescue One.
The ruddy-skinned, pony-tailed patriarch of Coopertown had heard Miami-Dade Fire Rescue choppers many times before. He estimates he has seen 50 serious accidents directly outside his place on Tamiami Trail, where Miami drivers and a narrow, two-lane road form a lethal combination.
White-and-chocolate Miccosukee police cruisers were crowded haphazardly around the outline of an accident about 400 feet to the east, their sirens flashing but silent. He'd seen tribal cops and Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) work together at the scene of an accident before, Kennon says, "but this was the first time I'd seen only tribal cops working a crash."
A pair of three-ton vehicles were crumpled and strewn like spent soda cans on opposite sides of the road. A dark-blue Ford Expedition SUV was overturned on the guardrail in the eastbound lane; three of its wheels were in the air, and its fender was ground into the asphalt.
A wrecked gray Nissan Frontier pickup was in the opposite lane. The compacted engine was exposed by a torn-away hood, bearing a deep crater on its driver's side. The left front tire rested on a metal rim, and the right one was twisted perpendicular to the vehicle. The front window was shattered and sunken. The truck looked as if it had been balled up by a giant hand.
The Frontier belonged to Tatiana Furry, a 31-year-old Kendall yachtswoman who sometimes made trips to the Miccosukee Resort & Gaming casino, about four miles to the east, to play bingo and poker. For her family, a surreal nightmare was about to begin.
Her father, Jack, was finally informed 14 hours after the accident that his daughter had been killed in the collision. Her older brother, Will Furry, says that tribal detective Russell Barnes told the family that she had fallen asleep and been "internally decapitated," adding that he had personally checked her vitals as the first cop on the scene. Detectives said there were two people in the other vehicle but refused to give their names.
Four months later, Jack Furry and his family have received no further information from the cops — and have found that the sparse account they were given is riddled with inconsistencies and falsehoods.
Other law-enforcement agencies have been misled as well. An FHP sergeant who arrived at the scene an hour after the accident was turned away. "We relied on information from the Miccosukee Police Department," says Capt. Mark Welch. "It wasn't until later that we found out it was in fact not within their jurisdiction."
Though the Miccosukee police have refused to release reports or even an official statement concerning the accident, New Times has discovered that the four young Miccosukee men who survived the accident have amassed a combined 17 traffic infractions and nine criminal charges, including DUI, having an open container of alcohol in a vehicle, and cocaine possession. At the time of the accident, the Expedition's driver, a grandson of the Miccosukee tribal chairman, was battling a felony charge in court.
"Why did they lie to us about how many people were in the car?" Will demands as he stands in his comfortable Coconut Grove sunroom. "Why won't they give us any information at all on the other vehicle? Why did it take them 14 hours to contact us? I have no choice but to believe that they're hiding something."
The 500-plus members of the Miccosukee Tribe are descendants of unconquered warriors who, in centuries of fighting, have never retreated from an aggressor.
They came from the Carolinas to Florida in the 1700s as mercenaries recruited by the Spanish to guard against British invasion. In the 1830s, the Miccosukees and Seminoles refused to be herded along the Trail of Tears. They clung to state soil in the bloody seven-year Florida War.
The Miccosukee migrated into untamed Everglades wilderness and weathered another American invasion in 1860. They overmatched their opponent in the swamp. But the tribe was decimated by the fighting and disease. Numbers dwindled to roughly a hundred by the turn of the 20th Century. They established trade relations with the white man along the Miami River, but the Miccosukee always regarded themselves as a renegade nation, making their own rules and strategic allies.
The Miccosukees have never entered into a treaty with the United States. But from the federal government's perspective, they share the same shaky sovereign status as all other Native American nations — self-rule with numerous caveats. "Dependent sovereignty" allows them no jurisdiction over non-Indians and limited power over their own tribe. Tribal courts can neither hear serious charges like murder nor impose sentences more severe than one year in prison. And Congress can overrule any decision made in Indian court.