The End of the Road
2:00 am
Mon September 1, 2014

I-95 And Its Eclectic Array Of Road Debris

Credit U.S. Government Accountability Office

The blonde wig flew out of nowhere, “flapping like a bird” as it lodged in the driver’s side windshield wiper of Jorge Garay’s delivery truck.

“Scared the viva Cuba libre out of me,” Garay wrote.

His tale is one of more than a dozen absurd -- and sometimes harrowing -- accounts of close encounters with road debris on Interstate 95 provided in response to a Public Insight Network query.

In Garay’s case, the nest of shoulder-length locks was blocking his view of the expressway.

“Now, what happened was an abundant amount of heavy, HEAVVYYY profanity, both in Cubano and English,” Garay explained.

Each year the Florida Department of Transportation pulls around 100 tons of debris from and around the roads in Miami-Dade County. While FDOT says it doesn’t keep road-specific figures, I-95 has earned a reputation for its eclectic, and often dangerous, array of rubbish.

SERIOUS ROAD DEBRIS

Perhaps the most notorious I-95 road debris incident occurred in 1998. Thirteen-year-old Stephanie Murray was riding in the passenger seat of her mom’s Toyota Sienna. Somewhere around Sunrise Boulevard, a metal rod shot through the minivan’s windshield, impaling Murray through the chest and pinning her to the car seat.

Murray survived and became an anti-road debris activist. Her experience helped prompt changes, including the formation of a team charged with scouring the highway for potentially deadly objects and encouraging drivers to use the *FHP (*347) system to report debris directly to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Alex Perez stands before a massive pile of "ditch maintenance debris." Perez, an engineer with FDOT, oversees maintenance for northern Miami-Dade County.
Credit Kenny Malone

“Now with people having cell phones... they see some debris on the road, they’ll call the *347” said Alex Perez, FDOT’s head of maintenance for northern Miami-Dade County. Perez also points to the Road Ranger program as a proactive effort by FDOT. “They are on the road 24 hours a day, they are looking for debris.”

According to a 2012 study from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Florida is now one of a handful of states in which non-commercial drivers could face jail-time for failing to properly secure a cargo load.

FLYING MATTRESSES, SEX TOYS AND DENTAL IMPLANTS

Despite those measures errant junk finds its way onto to the interstate. And, of late, it seems one item has grown to symbolize both the danger and absurdity of I-95 road debris: The airborne mattress.

“I don’t know if it’s the most in the country, but certainly you see your share of mattresses (on I-95),” Perez said. “[Some mattress-toting drivers] don’t understand that the speeds that they travel, the wind just catches those mattresses.”

WLRN-Miami Herald News asked FDOT’s clean-up contractors for a list of the stranger things they’ve had to pick up on and around I-95. Mattresses and box springs, of course, made the list but were nowhere near the most bizarre highway hazards.

There were toilets, sex toys and “gun bullets.” Abandoned boats and trailers, which the contractor lets law enforcement handle. There was at least one wedding dress, one tuxedo and a pair of underwear. Condoms, make up and love letters.

Money (both U.S. currency and foreign). Furniture (including dressers, a sofa, a desk and a chair). Tampons. Roofing materials. Hazardous waste. Shoes. Pants. Santeria paraphernalia. Destroyed mobile devices (iPad, iPod, cell phones etc.) House doors and windows. Garage doors. Refrigerators. Air conditioner units. A car door. Car bumpers. A car hood. A car roof.

And, the oddly unsettling: dental implants.
 

Florida is among a handful of states that, according to the GAO, threaten non-commercial drivers with jail-time for failing to secure loads.
Credit U.S. Government Accountability Office

THE PEOPLE'S ROAD DEBRIS

“A ladder” was one of the most popular responses to the Public Insight Network query asking: “What's the strangest piece of road debris you've ever seen on I-95?”

“A truck with a ladder positioned across the back swerved late to continue down I-95 south instead of 836,” wrote Ronny Racine. “The ladder popped off the back of his truck and started doing flips on the road.”

Daniel Berger of Miami wrote that he’s seen a baby stroller. Twice.

Motorcycle-riding Bill Andrews of Hollywood wrote that “quick decisions and a fast maneuver” helped him avoid a refrigerator.

And George Tucker of Fort Lauderdale recalls the Christmas tree he saw on I-95 just north of the Golden Glades.

“Still decorated,” he said.

“My yearly ritual is to look for the first I-95 Christmas tree,” Ginger Pedersen wrote in an email. “I start looking a few days after Christmas and I've never been disappointed.”

As for that flying blonde wig that temporarily blinded deliver truck driver Jorge Garay, he remembers thinking: “You know what, you came to me, I’m going to use you.”

So he took the next exit, stopped at a red light, took out a knife and cut the wig free from his wiper. By the end of the day, Garay says, he was wearing the thing; As a joke, showing it off to his fellow truck drivers.

“Everybody there agreed that it made me look pretty,” Garay wrote.

Some of these stories came to us from the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their opinions with The Miami Herald and WLRN. Become a news source for WLRN by going to wlrn.org/insight.