What began as a Miami-Dade car-jacking ended with three injured law enforcement officers, a dead gunman and hopelessly snarled traffic on Florida's Turnpike from afternoon rush hour through Friday morning.
Traffic is flowing again for the morning rush hour on the road, more than 12 hours after Key Biscayne officer Nelia M. Real, a 16-year veteran, was shot in the face and rushed to Memorial Regional Hospital, where she was in critical but stable condition.
An agent from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency was also shot, though not seriously wounded. His name was not released. He is the second in command of ICE's deportation office in South Florida, handling removals of undocument immgrants and convicted felons.
The shooter, who was not identified, killed himself after the ICE agent confronted him. His body, dressed entirely in black, remained in the roadway for hours, under a police tarp.
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A third officer, a deputy with the Broward Sheriff’s Office, was responding to the scene when she was involved in an accident on Interstate 95 near Sheridan Street and broke her leg.
The incident began with a carjacking in Northwest Miami-Dade around 2:20 p.m. Thursday, according to Timothy Donovan, a spokesman for the FBI, one of many agencies involved in the investigation.
The carjacker headed into Broward County, where he robbed Maxim Cuts barber shop, fired a weapon, abandoned the first car and stole a second, an Infiniti G35, authorities said.
When that vehicle crashed into another vehicle on the turnpike, Officer Real, who was driving north to her home in Fort Lauderdale, stopped to render aid — and was shot in the face.
A BSO deputy rushed her to the hospital.
Key Biscayne Police Chief Charles Press thanked that officer, and said that Real might owe him her life.
Press told reporters at the hospital that Real — called Nelly by the many well-wishers who left comments of her Facebook wall — “was shot in the neck and facial area, but fortunately the bullet missed all vital organs.’’
According to her Facebook page, Real, 54, is from Matanzas, Cuba, and is married. She is a big Marlins fan who likes hiking and camping, the Miami Dolphins, Reggae, and “The Maker.’’
The most prominent photo on her page is of a striped gray cat sleeping on a pillow.
Real was in the news once before: October 2001, when she arrested Gregory Hemingway, the youngest son of writer Ernest Hemingway, walking naked on a Key Biscayne median. He was wearing women’s jewelry, carrying a dress and high heels.
He died in jail five days later of a heart attack.
After the turnpike shootings Thursday evening, a witness reported seeing a second suspect jump over the railing and into a nearby wooded area.
Investigators from several agencies — Miramar, Pembroke Pines, South Miami, Miami Gardens, Key West, ICE, the FBI and Broward Sheriff’s Office, assisted by dozens of police K-9s, swarmed the woods in the pouring rain.
The search was called off after 9 p.m. when police concluded there was no second suspect, Donovan said.
Traffic stretching from Interstate 595 to near Dolphin’s Stadium remained gridlocked remained gridlocked into the early morning hours Friday.
Among those caught in the traffic: Miami Marlins catcher Brett Hayes, on his way to a birthday party.
Hayes said that as he and his wife were sitting in their car, they spotted a man walking in the median on their side of the highway, carrying a gun.
“He and I made [eye] contact, and he looked like he was up to no good,” Hayes said. “Something was very wrong. I just had a very bad feeling. My wife and I were in shock. I told her ‘Do not look at him.’ He was walking like he was walking down the street. It was really creepy, but his face....it was pretty scary to be honest with you.”
Shortly after the man passed their car, Hayes said a law-enforcement officer wearing a bulletproof vest walked by with gun drawn. After traffic began moving, Hayes said he turned on the radio and heard that officers had been shot.
“My wife and I said a big, long prayer for them,” Hayes said. “We heard later that they were going to be all right. What a blessing.”
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