It was as if Santa Claus had come to the Overtown area - two weeks late.
A Brink’s armored truck carrying more than $3.7 million rolled over on Wednesday, raining dollars on one of South Florida’s poorest neighborhoods. Motorists grabbed greenbacks. They jammed traffic for miles. Neighbors stuffed T-shirts, skirts, pockets and socks.
About $400,000 was lost, police said. One man said he’d gathered $1,200.
“Women with babies were putting money in their strollers,” said Ernesto Duarte, spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol. “That whole area was just sprayed with money.”
As rush hour began about 7:25 a.m., the speeding truck swerved on an Interstate 95 on-ramp from Interstate 395, hit a guardrail and flipped. The back door sprang open. Chaos followed.
One bag, with at least $300,000, bounced down the highway. Rolls of coins showered the street below. Bushes were covered by cash. A parking lot was littered with it.
Almost immediately, dozens of people after somebody else’s money showed up. Some were glad for the accident.
“What a Christmas after Christmas,” said Lisa Young, showing hands full of change. She said excited friends had tipped her off.
Police immediately tried to close off the area. They quickly found the bag with $300,000. They used shovels to scoop coins from the street. They even snatched money from an elderly woman who gathered it in a box.
Police later found a ripped canvas cash bag with nothing left. They did not charge people picking up money.
“People climbed over fences and climbed all over each other to get at the money,” Miami Lt. Bill Schwartz said. “It was complete pandemonium.”
The two Brink’s guards in the truck were slightly injured, but OK. Police said they planned to charge the driver, Walter Cravero, 40, with reckless driving. He was fined $75. The passenger, Lazaro Diaz, 38, wasn’t charged.
“I know (Brink’s) people weren’t happy,” Duarte said. Brink’s, however, was mum about the incident, even to investigators.
“We tried to touch bases with them,” Duarte said. “They were like, ‘No comment, no comment, no comment, No comment.”’ The money fell into a neighborhood where many people earn less than $5,000 per year. Some homes have dirt floors. Others don’t have running water.
Those scrambling for the cash were stunned, but happy. One little girl emptied her bookbag so she could fill it with change. Juanita Williams, who lives nearby, saw it happen.
“She just dumped all her books out into the street,” Williams said.
By 10:45 a.m., after much of the money was recovered, Brink’s officials told investigators they had gotten what they could, Duarte said.
When police lifted the crime scene tape, dozens swarmed to pick up remaining loose change. They darted back and forth through traffic. A Highway Patrol officer had to stay at the scene the rest of the day to keep them from getting run over.
Watching the mob scene, bystander James Toni took a philosophical view.
“They deserve it. These hard-working people, they don’t make enough money,” he said. “God sent a truck.”
It wasn’t the first time cash has fallen from an armored vehicle. In 1988, $1.7 million dropped from a truck in San Francisco. Only $1 million was recovered. A woman who felt guilty returned $28,000.
Armored trucks, which transport billions of dollars a year in the United States and can cost $65,000 to $100,000, are not supposed to pop open in accidents, experts say.
Kirk Heaton, an executive with International Armoring Corp. in Ogden, Utah, said manufacturers focus on making the trucks assault-proof - not necessarily accident-proof.
By nightfall, police had again cordoned off the scene in Overtown, fearing fortune seekers coming home from work. Some houses were even looted by people looking for money.
“Everybody thinks they are going to find a bag of money,” Duarte said.
Barbara Thorpe, a neighbor who gathered only 50 cents in the late morning scramble, was unimpressed.
“It don’t mean nothing,” Thorpe said. “Whatever they found out here will be spent by tonight.”