Firefighters help clean sullied Everglades plane crash memorial


Associated Press

MIAMI - More than 30 volunteers removed swastikas and other vandalism Saturday from stone markers at a memorial for the 110 victims of the 1996 ValuJet crash in the Everglades.

Vandals used red paint to deface about 20 of the gray, obelisk-shaped markers which bear the names of the crash victims. The markers are lined up at varying heights to form an arrow that points to the site of the crash.

"It really (stinks) that people have to stoop to that level and deface the property like that," said Miami-Dade fire Lt. Thomas Carter, who drove a fire truck to the memorial site along Tamiami Trail to provide water for the cleaners.

"It cuts your heart out when you see it," he said.

Carter was a communications specialist who helped search-and-rescue crews hunt for victims after the fatal ValuJet DC-9 crash on May 11, 1996, that killed 105 passengers and five crew members in the swamps of the Everglades.

With those memories still present, he agreed to help radio operator and installer Matthew Ginn by providing the truck's 750 gallons of water. Ginn, who learned of the vandalism last week, previously worked at Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and asked the department if he could borrow the truck.

Carter and Ginn were joined in the blazing sun by volunteers from the Boy Scouts, Florida Power & Light, and the Miccosukee Indian tribe, whose police department provided sandwiches, french fries and drinks for the workers.

The job took about three hours, Carter said, and involved cutting the weeds and grass around the markers in addition to restoring them with paint remover, wire brushes and pressure cleaners. They cleaned all the markers, some of which had algae growing on them.

Some of the painted markers had Nazi swastikas on them, and others had the word "Die" written on them. No arrests have been made.

"They had it spray painted on top of the names of the victims," Carter said.

Ginn said he became involved with the memorial a few years ago after he noticed it was in disrepair while driving home from a camping trip, and he began cutting the weeds and making it presentable. He says he tries to visit the memorial three times a year, and the Scouts also help maintain it.

Ginn said he didn't feel it was right to allow the memorial of such a tragic incident to be neglected.

"That's people's family that died out there. They don't have a gravestone except for that monument," Ginn said.