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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The year’s end is here, but before we bid adieu to 2014, let’s take a look back at a handful of some of the biggest, most talked about news stories in Miami-Dade County.
One of the leading stories, which also happens to be the most recent, was President Barack Obama’s history-making U.S./Cuba policy change announcement and the impact it made on the local community.
The policy change, announced on December 17th, would be the most significant changes to Cuba policy in 50 years and President Obama became the first U.S. president since the Eisenhower administration to speak directly to a Cuban leader.
The announcement, seconded by Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana, was accompanied by a quiet exchange of the three jailed spies in Florida and the release of 65-year-old Alan Gross, held in Cuba for five years.
The historic changes announced are sweeping: United States and Cuba would open embassies in each other’s capitals, exchange ambassadors and loosen trade and tourism restrictions.
But there was backlash in Miami’s Cuban community, where some believe Obama is appeasing a dictatorship. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican and Cuban-American, pledged to block any attempt by Obama to appoint an ambassador.
Meanwhile, local, national, and international media outlets, from as far away as Spain and Japan, made their way to Little Havana to capture and share the political engagement regarding the change in policy at the popular local Cuban restaurant, Versailles Café.
Earlier in 2014, in February, all-things-David Beckham set-in as the soccer superstar pledged to bring Major League Soccer back to Miami.
The celebration was short lived, however, as plans for a waterfront stadium on public land fell apart.
Instead of a soccer stadium, 2014 unfortunately saw a handful of tragedies on the water.
On May 4th, several people were attempting to push a boat, driven by popular radio personality Lazaro “DJ Laz” Mendez, off a sandbar in Key Biscayne. Ernesto “Ernie” Hernandez, 23, was killed when he got caught in the boat’s propeller while trying to help. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said investigators did not give Mendez a breath test because there was no probable cause to believe he was under the influence at the time of the accident. Hernandez’s family filed a lawsuit against Mendez, spoke to CBS4 saying Mendez showed a lack of remorse. Mendez, who at the time couldn’t talk specifics because he was in litigation, told CBS4, “…it’s the worst possible thing that could ever happen.”
A couple of months later, on July 4th after the fireworks wrapped up, there were more deaths on the water when three boats collided right outside of Dinner Key Marina.
Four people died, including former Miami-Dade Fireboat Captain Jack Garcia’s son, Andy Garcia. Jack Garcia assisted in recovering the bodies in the hours following the accident.
“I know our guys were not there. There was no effective search going on and I didn’t want to wait three days for my son’s body to float up, because I’ve been involved in that before. I wanted to put closure,” said Jack Garcia after the accident.
Garcia had predicted the tragedy would happen and that Miami-Dade’s fireboat, pulled out of service over budget cuts, wouldn’t be there when needed most.
It was a political fight, the mayor and firefighter union squaring off. In the end compromise was reached and the fireboats are back in the water.
Early in the year, on January 23rd, it was a different type of “Bieber Fever” when international pop star Justin Bieber posed for his mugshot in Miami Beach. Bieber and fellow R&B singer Khalil Sharieff were arrested after what Miami Beach Police described as an illegal street race between Bieber’s rented Lamborghini and a Ferrari driven by Sharieff. Neither was charged with drag racing and there was little evidence they were even exceeding posted speed limits. But, Bieber admitted he had smoked marijuana, swallowed some pills and drank before getting behind the wheel.
Attorneys for Bieber, in August, accepted a plea deal. Bieber’s DUI charge was reduced to careless driving–to which he pleaded guilty. He also pleaded guilty to resisting an officer without violence. Bieber in return will not face jail time but instead will have to take a private 12-hour anger management course, watch videos showing the impact of DUI crashes, pay court costs and make a $50,000 donation to charity.
Miami, with its lively music and party scene, attracts its fair share of musical acts, like Bieber. A music fest like no other, which Miami has hosted for 16 years, is Ultra–which in March stirred up yet another controversy.
Security Guard Erika Mack, 28, was working for Ultra when she was trampled while trying to stop a group who stormed a fence to get inside the event. Mack’s skull was cracked in two places, her leg now held together by rods and screws.
The future of the downtown Miami festival took center stage at a Miami city commission meeting in April. In in the end, it was decided that Ultra will return for another year, but with heightened security and will no longer allow minors.
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