Bikes and trains: Tri-Rail rolling out dedicated bicycle cars

Tri-Rail has rolled out its first bike car.

By the end of the year, the commuter train will have 10 cars dedicated for bicycles. The first one was added to Tri-Rail’s fleet last Friday, offering a sneak preview of what bike commuters can look forward to.

Tri-Rail rolled out its first bike car last Friday. Nine more cars will be added by the end of the year.
Tri-Rail rolled out its first bike car last Friday. Nine more cars will be added by the end of the year.

“People are going to be excited about it. They’ve been asking for it for a long time,’’ said Tri-Rail spokesman Bonnie Arnold.

The new bike car contains 14 racks on one side to allow more room to maneuver bikes on and off the train. The other side of the car will have about 20 seats.

The bike cars are being added to the traditional three-car set, making it a four-set train with additional seating. It is marked with a large bicycle symbol on the outside of the car and makes two runs per day for now.

The other nine bike cars will make two to four runs per day.

Passengers can continue to bring bicycles on board but they still will be limited to two bike straps per car, a limit that high demand made impossible to meet, said Arnold.

“The increase in the number of bikes on a Tri-Rail train is astonishing,’’ said Arnold, who said the heaviest concentration of bike commuters is between Pompano Beach and Deerfield Beach in northern Broward County.

“I have seen conductors ask bike riders to wait for the next train because there’s no room.’’

Jesse Bailey, a real estate analyst who runs the Walkable West Palm Beach blog, praised Tri-Rail for adding the bike cars.

“A lot of folks who take Tri-Rail don’t own cars and they rely on other modes of transportation, like bikes,” he said.

“Often the problem with mass transit and Tri-Rail, you arrive at the station but you still need to get to that final destination. This will help make that more seamless.’’


In PBSO’s payouts, shootings are dwarfed by accidents, misconduct

pb sheriff badgeThe Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has paid out precious little to people who have been shot by police over the years – just $1.7 million, as The Palm Beach Post documented last week.

There are a variety of reasons why: unfriendly courts and judges, unsympathetic victims and a state law that limits many payouts to just $200,000.

As a result, the most PBSO has ever paid out for a shooting since 2000 is just $300,000, to the family of a Guatemalan man who was shot and killed by a deputy who planted evidence at the scene.

But the department has paid out far bigger sums over the same period, mostly for accidents and deputy misconduct cases.

Here are the department’s top non-shooting-related settlements in the last 16 years, according to figures provided by PBSO:

$1.5 million: To Jennifer Graham, who was sitting on a park bench when a PBSO deputy lost control of his cruiser while going to a call in 2003. The deputy struck Graham, seriously injuring the then-29-year-old woman.

 $641,000: To Lawrence Femminella, a PBSO jail deputy who was falsely accused in 2003 of supplying cocaine to an inmate. The inmate said five deputies were supplying cocaine, and each were placed on paid leave. They were later cleared, with an apology from then-Sheriff Ed Bieluch: “These are good employees, good people and good citizens. There was no wrongdoing on the part of any of them.”

$600,000: To Doug Miller and his son Shawn, who claimed they were falsely arrested by a deputy in 2001. The incident apparently started with the senior Miller reporting a speeding driver to police, leading to both Millers being arrested on multiple felony charges, including assault with a deadly weapon, according to the Sun Sentinel. Prosecutors never charged them.

$376,817: To former PBSO deputy Keith Burns, who was fired before being acquitted in 2007 of beating a teen with his baton. He later sued, claiming the entire incident was a “ridiculous witch hunt” and that he had a deal with the previous sheriff, Bieluch, that he wouldn’t be fired before the trial ended.

$350,000: To Michael Mueller, the 19-year-old who was allegedly beaten by deputy Keith Burns, after running away from the deputy during a late-night traffic stop in 2003. Mueller said Burns hit him in the head, arms, thighs and back, requiring metal staples to close a wound on his head and a metal plate in his arm to piece the bone back together. Burns denied hitting him, and a jury acquitted him.

$250,000: To two men who, as children, were molested by deputy Gervasio Torres while they were members of the department’s Explorers program. The allegations were first made in 1992, but the department didn’t launch an investigation until 2003. Torres was convicted of two counts of capital sexual battery and is spending life in prison.

Third incident of dark smoke at Lake Worth crematorium prompts more complaints

The Palm Beach County Public Health Department confirmed another incident today of dark smoke at All County Funeral Home & Crematory on Lake Avenue.

That makes at least three days this month when heavy smoke emissions from human cremations prompted complaints  from the public. The other two incidents occured July 1 and July 16.

Health officials are investigating the cause of all three incidents.

The latest one occured this morning, prompting more concern from residents on social media and calls to the health department.

“I think residents are growing more and more concerned about this, just from the number of contacts I’ve had,” said Michael Chase Fox .

“We don’t need our image in Lake Worth to be hurt more. But this is something that exceeds that concern.”



Nationals, Astros scrap plans for underground parking at new WPB spring training stadium

In a cost-cutting move, the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals have scrapped plans for underground parking at the $160 million spring training stadium they plan to share in West Palm Beach.

Architects have scrapped plans to add a parking garage beneath the stairs and concourse on the west side of the new West Palm Beach baseball stadium.
Architects have scrapped plans to add a parking garage beneath the stairs and concourse on the west side of the new West Palm Beach baseball stadium.

Initial plans called for a parking garage for players and team executives beneath the stadium’s concourse on the west side, which will be elevated with concrete stairs for fans to climb to get to the main gates.

“We were going to park cars underneath there because we had this cover,’’ said architect Morris Stein.

“It turns out it will be more expensive to do that, so we got rid of it.’’

Now, the teams will either use that space for storage or they will simply fill in the space with dirt and post-recycled soil that’s currently on the site.

The 160-acre site south of 45th Street between Haverhill Road and Military Trail was used as a landfill from the mid-1950s until about 2000.

The Astros and Nationals hope to break ground by mid-October. They’ll be on a tight schedule to open by January 2017.

The teams are using $113 million in county hotel tax revenue and $50 million in state revenue to help finance the project. They will be responsible for any cost overruns.



Will new West Palm Beach baseball stadium produce Hall of Famers? The old one did.

The architects planning the new Major League Baseball spring training complex in West Palm Beach are promoting the facility as a place where local fans can see current and future stars.

Maybe it will even produce a few future Hall of Famers some day. West Palm Beach’s last spring training complex did just that.

Playing for the Class A West Palm Beach Expos in 1986, Randy Johnson hit six batters, walked 94 and threw 13 wild pitches in 119 2/3 innings.
Playing for the Class A West Palm Beach Expos in 1986, Randy Johnson hit six batters, walked 94 and threw 13 wild pitches in 119 2/3 innings.

In fact, three more players who spent time at old West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame today.

Pitcher Randy Johnson broke in with the Montreal Expos and pitched in West Palm Beach as a minor leaguer and in spring training.

John Smoltz spent time throwing baseballs off Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard with the Atlanta Braves and Pedro Martinez did the same during spring training with the Expos.

Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz represent the second straight year that a single Hall of Fame class had three inductees with ties to West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium.

Last year, Braves manager Bobby Cox went in along with two of his pitchers, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.

Other Hall of Famers who spent time playing in West Palm Beach include Hank Aaron, Gary Carter and Andre Dawson.

There has been no decision yet on whether the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, which is scheduled to open south of 45th Street by 2017, will host minor league teams.

West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium did host Florida State League teams before closing after the 1997 season.

Voting made easier and other bright ideas

Betty Carlson (L) helps her husband Keith Carlson, who is visually impaired, fill out his ballot during early voting at the Black Hawk County Courthouse on September 27, 2012 in Waterloo, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Betty Carlson (L) helps her husband Keith Carlson, who is visually impaired, fill out his ballot during early voting at the Black Hawk County Courthouse on September 27, 2012 in Waterloo, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Making it easier to search the voting records of Florida politicians and making voting more accessible to all citizens are two of 22 voting-related projects awarded grants this week by the Knight Foundation.

Orlando Sentinel data analysts Charles Minshew and Andrew Gibson will get $35,000 to create Tabs on Tallahassee, a searchable database of voting records of Florida legislators. The University of Florida’s Juan Gilbert will get $35,000 to develop Accessible Voting for Everyonean electronic voting system to make voting easier for all citizens, particularly those with disabilities.

The foundation’s Knight News Challenge handed out $3.2 million for 22 projects Wednesday in Austin, Texas. Ten of the projects get more than $200,000. The rest get $35,000.

The foundation has given away $50 million to more than 130 projects over eight years.

The biggest award this year, $525,000, went to The Center for Responsive Politics and GuideStar for Inside the 990 Treasure Trove, a proposal to unearth and track campaign contributions by unregulated non-profits.

Among other winners: efforts to make state campaign finances more accessible, a way to access and fact-check political advertisements and  a way to provide less-expensive, more reliable exit polls.

PBSO Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, on video, sounds off on police shootings

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw shared his harshest comments over recent criticism about his agency’s shootings with officers gathered at a recent Police Benevolent Association gala.

In a video for the event, Bradshaw blasted elected officials, the media and police chiefs across the country who bow to public pressure over deadly police encounters.

“As long as I’m in this office, and I hope to be there a little bit longer, I’m not backing up, and Channel 5 and The Post can take their best shot, because it’s not going to work,” he said.

Bradshaw was referring to The Palm Beach Post and WPTV NewsChannel 5’s joint investigation “Line of Fire,” which documented all of the department’s 123 shootings since 2000 and found one in four people shot at were unarmed. The investigation also found the department’s internal investigations into shootings often lacked basic information, such as how many rounds the deputy fired.

The video was recorded for the PBA’s 8th Annual Police Officer’s Ball at Eau Palm Beach on June 13, and uploaded to the Dade County PBA’s Facebook page on July 9. Since Bradshaw couldn’t attend, he was asked to make a video addressing the troops, PBSO spokeswoman Teri Barbera said.

One of the people Bradshaw didn’t criticize in the video was Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, who has been criticized as recently as Monday for not filing charges against officers who shoot.

“First of all, to my good friend Dave Aronberg, thank you for being one of those people that have stood up lately and been the person that’s been counted upon to do the right thing,” Bradshaw said.

No officer has been charged in a shooting in Palm Beach County since 1993. Aronberg took office in 2013. Among the officers he declined to indict was Adams Lin, who shot and paralyzed an unarmed man later that year, sparking national outrage.

In the video, Bradshaw said his political advisers have urged him “to find some common ground” with critics, since he’s running for re-election next year.

“For me, there is no common ground here,” he said. “I can be like some of the elected officials, I can be like some of the police officials, and tuck my tail between my legs and say, ‘Yeah, you know what, maybe we need to talk about this.’

“No. that’s not it. And I’m not going to back up. Because we have not done anything wrong. We have taken action when we need to take action.”

PBSO spokeswoman Teri Barbera said the message was meant to rally the officers in attendance. They gave it a standing ovation.

“Each speaker, including the sheriff, shared a motivating message with the troops,” she said in an email. “ALL received standing ovations, by the troops.”

One of the guest speakers was WPEC-TV CBS 12 News anchor Liz Quirantes. The black-tie event was attended by various elected officials, including West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio.

“I want everybody that’s in law enforcement to hold their head up high,” Bradshaw told them. “As far as I’m concerned, law enforcement in this county is as good as you can get.”

He described shootings as deputies simply responding to the actions of suspects.

“This is a simple equation,” he said. “If you don’t try to shoot us, if you don’t try to stab us, you don’t try to run over us with a car, and you don’t try to beat us up, then everything’s going to be fine.”

He added, “So why should we be apologetic? Why should we kowtow down? Why should we succumb to pressure from the outside, which is uncalled for, just because they think it’s wrong, when it’s not?”

In reaction to The Post and Channel 5’s investigation, Bradshaw started tracking how often deputies pull their guns on people. He’s also paying $100,000 for an outside group to review how the agency investigates itself.

In the video, Bradshaw urged the “silent majority” of officers and citizens who support police to “be unsilent.”

“They need to put their big boy pants on and be as vocal as the other people that say, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot,’ which is not even remotely the truth,” he said.

“Cremation” roasted on latest non-PC sign above Lake Worth bar

The marquee above Harry’s Banana Farm on North Dixie Highway in Lake Worth has had some memorable non-PC messages over the years, from “We’ve got beer colder than your ex-wife’s heart” to “Welcome to Lake Worth: Batteries not included.”

FUNNY SIGNBut the self-proclaimed local dive bar had impeccable timing with its latest sign: “Cremation — the only time you’ll have a smokin’ hot body.”

All County Funeral Home and Crematorium on Lake Avenue has been experiencing problems this month by emitting dark smoke on at least two days this month.

The latest incident occurred last Thursday morning while the first one happened late on the afternoon of July 1.

The Palm Beach County Public Health Department is investigating the cause of both incidents, and the crematory has promised nearby residents that the problem will be fixed.



Family of Dontrell Stephens, shot by PBSO, creates fundraising site

Can’t see this video? Click here.

It’s been nearly two years since Dontrell Stephens was shot and paralyzed by a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy.

But he’s only been out of physical rehabilitation for about a month and a half, and now his family is asking for help finding the wheelchair-bound 22-year-old permanent housing.

Stephens’ cousin, Karen, created a GoFundMe campaign to raise money. As of Tuesday evening, it had collected $3,325 toward its modest $5,000 goal.

“He was supposed to find a place but it’s very difficult when he doesn’t have any income,” Karen Stephens said Tuesday. “He really is, essentially, homeless.”

Dontrell Stephens was shot by Deputy Adams Lin in September 2013 after he was stopped while riding his bike.

The incident, which was partially captured on video, showed that Lin shot him four seconds after stopping him. Lin said he thought Stephens was reaching toward his waistband as if he had a gun.

Stephens was unarmed, holding only a cell phone. Lin’s four bullets left him paralyzed from the waist down, and video from the incident received national attention this year.

Lin was cleared in the shooting and was recently promoted to sergeant.

Stephens went to a physical rehabilitation center near Orlando after his release from the hospital. Since he left rehab, he’s been living in an extended stay hotel in West Palm Beach, Karen Stephens said.

His lawyer, Jack Scarola, confirmed Dontrell Stephens’ situation. He said that Stephens was supposed move into an apartment with his mother but his mother never got an apartment.

Although Stephens and Scarola are suing PBSO in federal court, Scarola said legal ethics forbid him from paying his client’s rent.

“We are not in a position to provide him the kind of help he needs, and I wish we could,” Scarola said. “He is one of those people who has most definitely fallen through the cracks.”

Karen Stephens said her cousin has not yet been able to find a job but is receiving a small amount of money for his disability from the Social Security Administration. It’s not enough for him to live on, she and Scarola said.

She’s collecting just $5,000 to cover a few months of rent for Dontrell, she said. Other family members are trying to help as they can.

“No one can do everything all the time (for him),” she said. “People try to help as they can. It’s just a handful of us in the family that are able to do it.”

Stephens’ stint in rehab cost “a few hundred thousand dollars,” Scarola said, but he hasn’t had to pay for it yet.

“They agreed to provide rehab services for Dontrell, with the understanding they would be paid out of the litigation,” he said of the facility.

Despite his situation, Scarola said Stephens is doing well, thanks to the support of his family.

Math used in Post’s Florida Lottery investigation published in journal

The Palm Beach Post, with the help of some top-notch mathematicians, used some pretty sophisticated math to uncover fraud within the Florida Lottery last year.

So sophisticated, in fact, that it’s been published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Mathematics.

Much of the content in the paper, “Some people have all the luck,” reads like Greek unless you’re a mathematician. The paper, for example, relies partly on “log-concavity of the regularized Beta function, which lets us show that any local minimizer attains the global minimal value.”

You can bet a Post reporter didn’t write that.

Actually, it comes from three mathematicians and statisticians. When The Post started noticing some people winning the lottery at improbable rates – in some cases, more than 200 times – a reporter reached out to several mathematicians and statisticians for help answering a question: How much would someone have to spend to win the lottery so often?

Skip Garibaldi, a professor at Emory University and associate director of the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics at UCLA, and Philip B. Stark, professor and chairman of the Department of Statistics at the University of California, Berkeley, graciously offered to answer it.

They also enlisted the help of Richard Arriata, a professor at the University of Southern California.

The trio found that the lucky winners would have to spend millions to have a 1-in-20-trillion chance of winning a couple hundred thousand dollars in prize money.

Nobody would be idiotic enough to spend millions to win a few hundred thousand. Even if they were, the odds would be astronomical.

Garibaldi compared the chances to picking out one star out of 50 Milky Way-sized galaxies, then having your friend pick the same star on the first try.

“It’s possible, it’s just utterly implausible,” Garibaldi said last year. “Quantum mechanics tells us all sorts of insane, unimaginable things could happen. Your desk could suddenly turn into a talking goose. There’s a calculable probability that that could happen. But it’s never going to happen.”

Armed with that information, along with some shoe-leather sleuthing, The Post confronted the Florida Lottery with its findings. Instead of admitting fraud within the system, lottery Secretary Cynthia O’Connell replied, “That’s what the lottery is all about. You can buy one ticket and you become a millionaire.”

But actually, the lottery had known for years that people were winning too often, The Post later found. They just chose to do nothing about it.

Some of the frequent winners, including the top one, were part of an underground market for winning lottery tickets, lottery investigators later found.

The winners would buy winning tickets from customers so the customers could avoid paying taxes, child support or other obligations. The lottery pulls those obligations out of the winnings.

The lottery later seized machines and supplies at multiple stores and installed several safeguards to prevent fraud. In all, it’s stopped more than 50 stores from continuing to sell lottery tickets.

Garibaldi also helped reporters at news organizations in 10 others states investigate their lotteries. They, too, found too-frequent winners.