SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE – (CBS4) -What started as a broken down truck found along I-95 in Palm Beach County Monday morning grew through the day into a mystery linking Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, with one person dead, two more in the hospital, a full-blown hazardous materials investigation along the highway, and the FBI joining police their investigation.
Police have staked out a home in Southwest Miami-Dade as other investigators in West Palm Beach cordoned off an area around a truck apparently belonging to a Miami pest control company.
The truck, with the sign “C.J. Pest Control Miami”, was found by a road ranger patrolling I-95 northbound near Palm Beach Lakes boulevard around 7 a.m. Monday. When the ranger approached the truck to see if the driver needed help, he spotted a man and a boy inside. The two were later identified as 53-year-old Jorge Barahona of Southwest Miami-Dade and a 10-year-old boy, Victor Vocter, who the Florida Highway Patrol said is a foster child under Barahona’s care.
Paramedics called to the scene found that the two had been overcome by some kind of fumes, and took them from the truck. The two were taken to a Palm Beach County hospital, but shortly after they were rescued, some of the firefighters who helped started feeling ill. Four firefighters were briefly hospitalized, and later released, but because of the fumes and the injuries Haz-Mat crews were called in to take over the investigation.
As traffic on I-95 slowed to a crawl, investigators tried to figure out what may have overpowered Barahona and his son. Police said chemicals were found leaking from the truck, but what they found was not the type of chemical usually used in pest control. The leak appeared to be an acid used to clean metal.
It was while they were looking through the truck, protected with air-tight Haz-Mat suits, that they spotted a container in the bed of the truck.
“The Department of Environmental Protection went into the rear of the vehicle, moving aide some chemicals, ” said Chase Scott, spokesperson for the West Palm Beach Police department, speaking to reporters late Monday night. “(They) located a body in a bag in the rear of the vehicle.”
The discovery of the body added a new dimension to the investigation, but police are not yet saying much about what was found.
“At this point, we have not made an identification as to the age, sex, of gender of the body, due to the nature of the situation,” Scott said.
The discovery of the chemicals sent Miami-Dade Police and Fire Rescue Haz-mat crews to Barahona’s home on the 11000 block of Southwest 47 Terrace in Southwest Miami-Dade to search for any possible clues as to what made him and Vocter sick.
When the body was found, they were joined by homicide detectives.
Police sealed off the neighborhood at about 9 p.m. Monday and, as the Miami-Dade Bomb Squad stood by, Haz-Mat crews prowled Barahona’s property looking for dangerous chemicals.
Barahona’s neighbors say he kept pesticides in a drum in his backyard, but Jim Sheppard said he never noticed a problem.
“He was always very cautious when he did his stuff,” Sheppard told CBS4’s Evan Bacon. “He sprayed my house, and when he came in and sprayed my house he’d always put on a big respirator and ask me to step out. He’s always really cautious and careful about the chemicals.
At the request of the West Palm Beach police department, Miami-Dade detectives searched for evidence at Barahona’s home.
Late Monday, it was learned the FBI was joining in the investigation, though no reason was given for the federal interest.
Barahona’s business is located at his home, and just last week, he filed with the Florida Secretary of State to use the name C.J.’s Pest Control for his business. The Florida Secretary of State’s office said Barahona had operated a business as C.J.’s Pest Exterminator, Inc., since March of 1998. That corporation was dissolved by the state last September, when he failed to file the proper state documents.
According to state records, he also holds the business name “CJ’s Catalog”, which has been listed at his home since 2001.