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Sundial

Surfside’s Future, A Possible Mistaken Identity And A Life Sentence, And Miami’s 125th Birthday

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Pedro Portal
/
Miami Herald
Lourdes Losada mourns the loss of her college roommate, Maria Teresa Rovirosa, who is still missing, at the memorial wall for the victims of the Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside on Thursday, July 8, 2021. ‘She was just a great person. ... She would take what she had and give it to everybody,’ Losada said.

The future and healing for the Surfside community. Did a murder and a mistaken identity lead to a wrongful conviction and life sentence? Plus, Miami’s 125th birthday — we’ll learn about some of the city’s most interesting, and lesser-known, history.

This post has been updated.

On this, Wednesday, July 28, episode of Sundial

Surfside’s Future And Healing

The final victim of the Surfside condo collapse has been identified. The debris has been cleared. And what was once a multi-story condominium tower is now an empty plot of land.

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“There was one survivor. His name is Gabriel Nir. He's 25. And he told me he's really struggling with mental health and he feels a lot of survivor's guilt. He feels trauma. He's staying with his seven-member family in two rooms in a hotel in Surfside,” said WLRN reporter Veronica Zaragovia, who was at a press conference Wednesday with survivors.

Nir has his hopes on going into medical school but says he mentally cannot do that anymore.

The investigation continues into what could’ve caused the collapse. Lawsuits are piling up. And now there is a debate on what should go in that space.

“[Some people] had paid off their apartment. They would actually be open to living there. I spoke today with one survivor, Zulia Taub, who said that she would not like to live on that property again because of the memories that she has of all of the victims who didn't survive. But she would like to stay in the area,” Zaragovia said.

The Surfside tragedy has touched so many lives in South Florida.

While Miami-Dade is a massive county — there are many tight-knit communities woven throughout the region.

“Surfside is a small town,” said Wall Street Journal reporter Elizabeth Bernstein, who has been visiting her family’s home in Surfside for years. “Most of Surfside does not have sidewalks. People walk in the street, they drive slow. Kids play ball in the street. You see people pushing their babies and strollers. It is so low-key compared to bling bling, Miami, South Beach, these kinds of things. And that sticks in my mind when I think of Surfside.”

Read her personal essay, “Surfside Now Means Tragedy. For Four Generations of My Family, It’s Meant Home,” here.

Surfside’s Future And Healing
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A Life Sentence And A Possible Mistaken Identity

Thomas James is currently serving a life sentence in the Okeechobee Correctional Institution.

James was charged with first degree murder after a man was killed in Coconut Grove in the 1990s during a botched armed robbery.

Except, Thomas James lived in Brownsville — he’d only been to Coconut Grove once or twice in his life.

Did police arrest the wrong man?

James has been in prison for 30 years. He investigated his own case from prison and tried to figure out what happened and helped find the other Thomas James.

The Justice Project, a branch of the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office conviction integrity unit, is now looking into the case. Tristram Korten is a magazine writer and the director of journalism for the Florida Center for Government Accountability. He's been reporting the story for GQ Magazine.

“Hopefully they will reach the same conclusion I reached after reviewing thousands of pages of documents. It's all there in black and white right in front of us,” Korten said.

Read the full story here.

A Life Sentence And A Possible Mistaken Identity
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Miami’s 125th Birthday

Wednesday marked the day, 125 years ago, that Miami officially became a city.

The day was July 28, 1896, where 367 people voted to make it a city, which was more prestigious than a village or town classification. Of those people, 162 were Black residents. And the first name on the charter of the city was that of Silas Austin, a Black man.

Sundial took a look back with local historians Dr. Enid Pinkney, who is the founding president of The Historic Hampton House Community Trust in Miami’s Brownsville corridor, and Dr. Paul George, a resident historian at the HistoryMiami Museum, to understand what makes Miami the place we know today.

We also heard from listeners about what they think makes Miami special.

HistoryMiami Museum has a new exhibition celebrating the city’s anniversary called “It’s a Miami Thing: Highlights from Our Collection.” It opens Thursday and will be on display through Jan. 9, 2022.

The city is also hosting a series of events this week to commemorate the anniversary.

Miami’s 125th Birthday
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Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to the Justice Project, a non-profit organization, as the group investigating Thomas James' case. The Justice Project in question is actually part of the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office.

Leslie Ovalle produces WLRN's daily magazine program, Sundial. She previously produced Morning Edition newscasts at WLRN and anchored the midday news. As a multimedia producer, she also works on visual and digital storytelling.