WSVN — He is deaf and blind, and obviously needs some assistance, but a company hired by the county has left him at a gas station and dropped him on the side of the road. What was done about it? Nothing, and it’s why his father called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
Your hero may be an athlete or may be a movie star. The person Lazaro admires is much more incredible.
Lazaro Gutierrez: “He’s taught me everything I know. He is my hero.”
Lazaro’s son Joey is mentally challenged, and that’s not the only hurdle he has to deal with.
Lazaro Gutierrez: “My son is a 24-year-old handicap that has cerebral palsy. He is deaf, blind and mute. I have raised him by myself with the help of my mom, thank God.”
But Joey has his single dad to guide and protect him. Joey can see shadows, and while not understanding words, he hears vibrations.
And when Lazaro goes to work every day, Joey has a place to go to develop and have a little fun.
Lazaro Gutierrez: “The only place I can send him is a beautiful place called Peerlink.”
The county pays Transportation America, which then subcontracts to another company called Minority Mobile Systems to take Joey for his daily trips.
Lazaro Gutierrez: “Without the transportation, he has to stay home and I can’t go work.”
Then, last year, a driver for the transportation company stopped to get gas. Joey thought he was at home and got out. When the driver got to Lazaro’s house in West Dade, he realized Joey was not in the car.
Lazaro Gutierrez: “So the guy says to my mom and his caregiver, ‘Oh, I think I left him in a gas station.’ You think you left him in a gas station?”
Not realizing a blind-deaf man was not in his car stunned Lazaro.
Lazaro Gutierrez: “This is physical abuse. It’s a criminal abuse against them.”
Joey was found at the gas station and was OK. Lazaro says Miami-Dade County promised to investigate, and he was told the driver was fired. But then, another incident.
Lazaro Gutierrez: “They left him outside of my house, left him in front of my house, which my son can’t get in.”
The gate to their yard is locked. Joey is supposed to be dropped off at 3:30 p.m., but Lazaro says he was dropped off on the side of the road at least half an hour earlier than that.
Lazaro Gutierrez: “My son could have been killed that day walking down the street. He’s deaf, blind and mute. He can’t see where he is going.”
Joey was found on the street by a caretaker. Lazaro again complained to Miami-Dade County and the transportation company. They said, no problem, they would take care of it.
Lazaro Gutierrez: “They keep telling me they are doing something about it. No, you are not! That is crazy, and it’s almost happened twice. Thank God it has not happened.”
Lazaro is beyond furious. He considers this child abuse and wants the law against this to be enforced.
Lazaro Gutierrez: “The county is not doing their job correctly in hiring, giving the contracts to people who are incompetent and physically put handicaps in danger of their lives.”
Well, Howard, is it legal for a caretaker to leave a blind, deaf, mentally challenged person on the side of the road?
Howard Finkelstein: “No, it is not legal, but the law is very weak. The driver could be charged if the state decided to, but they also have the leeway to not file charges. The company that did this probably cannot be sued because Joey was not hurt. The only certainty, the county could pull the contract and quit using this company.”
Miami-Dade Police’s Vulnerable Victims Unit investigated and turned their findings over to the State Attorney’s Office. In a close-out memo, the assistant state attorney wrote, “The video from the transportation company showed Joey was dropped off at 2:57, three minutes early,” that the STS guide does not require the driver to wait with the rider at the drop-off location.
However, a Miami-Dade Transit spokesperson told us that driver was terminated for failure to provide door-to-door service. But in conclusion, the assistant state attorney wrote, “There is insufficient evidence to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the subject (driver) committed any criminal offense.”
Lazaro Gutierrez: “Now, according to the state, I guess there’s a certain time that you are allowed to abandon a deaf, blind and mute and handicapped young adult.”
The attorney for the company that hired Minority Mobile Systems agreed with the state attorney, even though the driver was fired. Legally, he did nothing wrong. Lazaro, of course, disagrees.
Lazaro Gutierrez: “Yeah, that is morally wrong, and if it’s not illegally wrong, then the law needs to be looked at more carefully.”
Patrick Fraser: “Amazing the things Joey has overcome and has to deal with every day. That will stop me from complaining about a silly problem. And Lazaro wants the law changed. Maybe a South Florida elected leader will help him out.
Know a wonderful person being treated woefully? Think it’s time to show them the way? Contact us. We aren’t special, but a lot of the people we meet are.
With this Help Me Howard, I’m Patrick Fraser 7News.