Horrific Scene with Tragic Outcome Discovered on FL Hwy
Video Screen Capture
The Miami Herald via YellowBrix
February 16, 2011
WEST PALM BEACH — Stranded in an old red pickup by the side of the road, the 10-year-old boy was dripping in acid, badly burned and writhing with seizures.
There was so much of it on Monday morning that it soaked the seats and carpet of the truck, filling the air with poisonous fumes.
Beside him slumped his adoptive father, unconscious and unable, for the moment, to explain what he was doing with the injured boy on the shoulder of northbound Interstate 95 – or to account for the grisly contents of the truck’s covered trailer bed.
Hours after father and son were taken to separate hospitals, the circumstances seemed suspicious to state workers but fell short of sinister. And then they found it: a corpse wrapped in a plain, black garbage bag, tucked in among tubs of unlabeled chemicals.
In a hastily assembled news conference on Tuesday night, a city police spokesman said the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner still was working to identify the “extremely deteriorated,” acid-covered body.
He declined to say whether it had belonged to a child or whether he or she was related to the truck’s driver, 53-year-old Jorge Barahona. The pest exterminator lived in western Miami-Dade County and, with his wife, was raising four adopted children, all younger than 11, officials said.
Although Barahona remained in intensive care at Columbia Hospital in West Palm Beach, police arrested him Tuesday night on a felony charge of aggravated child abuse in connection with an attack on his adopted son, Victor Vocter, said Chase Scott, agency spokesman. Police spoke briefly with Barahona and his wife but were unable to interview the boy.
The Florida Highway Patrol said Tuesday they had recovered a red, plastic gas container from the truck’s cab. The container reeked and was full of acid.
Scott said the attack happened by the side of Interstate 95 but declined to elaborate. He added that police expect to file more charges against Barahona in the near future.
Barahona and his wife, 60-year-old Carmen Barahona, already were the subject of a child abuse investigation by the state’s social services agency.
On Thursday, spurred by a call to a state abuse hot line, the Florida Department of Children and Families opened an investigation into the Barahonas, the latest of “several” such probes into the couple’s treatment of their children, DCF spokesman Mark Riordan said Tuesday.
After the injured boy and the acid-burned body were found, DCF scrambled to see to the safety of Barahona’s remaining adopted children, who had been in state foster care and placed with the Barahonas between 2001 and 2009. Two of the children, Victor and his twin sister, were adopted at the same time.
It was too late for Victor, who lay Tuesday night at St. Mary’s Medical Center, so badly hurt that he was fitted into an incubator at the pediatric intensive care unit. Doctors who examined the boy said he suffered “severe internal reactions,” apparently from inhaling the chemicals, Scott said.
“We’re in the preliminary stages of an extremely tragic and complex set of circumstances,” Riordan said.
A state Road Ranger first spotted Barahona’s red pickup, emblazoned with the name of his Miami-based pest-extermination company, along northbound Interstate 95, between Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard and 45th Street, about 5 a.m. on Monday, the FHP said.
He passed the truck again two hours later and called for a trooper to take a look, setting off a series of official responses that saw Barahona and the boy rushed to nearby hospitals. A city hazardous-materials team remained to handle the dangerous chemicals on the truck.
By Monday afternoon, the state Department of Environmental Protection’s emergency responders were poring over the area, noting several large containers in the bed of the pickup. Some were marked, some were unmarked, and one 50- to 75-gallon tub was cracked and leaking, said DEP spokeswoman Cristina Llorens. A powerful acid pooled in the bed and soaked into the truck’s upholstery and carpet.
About 3:45 p.m., a DEP contractor called in to haul the truck away found the body wrapped in the black garbage bag, which had been removed from bed and placed by the front of the truck, Llorens said.
The discovery set into motion a painstakingly slow process that still was unfolding Tuesday night, as an FBI team worked to decontaminate the truck and clear the way for county forensic investigators to examine the body. About 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, investigators retrieved the corpse and brought it to the medical examiner’s office for an autopsy.
DCF workers put the Barahonas’ other adopted children, between 7 and 11, in the care of Carmen Barahona’s parents, Riordan said.
DCF officials planned to go before a state dependency court judge today for a ruling on whether to remove the children from the Barahonas’ care.
Jorge and Carmen Barahona were married in Coral Gables in 1996, records show. The couple ran CJ’s Pest Exterminator Inc. from their well-kept home at 11501 S.W. 47th Terrace in western Miami-Dade County. Neither had a criminal record in Florida, state records show.
To adopt children from the state’s foster program, the Barahonas had to pass a rigorous background screening and attend training classes, Riordan said.