Attorney for dad of missing Hallandale Beach baby says evidence was damaged

The tiny bones recovered from a backyard grave have a story to tell: Are these the remains of Dontrell Melvin, a baby whose family didn’t report him missing for 18 months? And how was the baby killed?

According to notes in the Hallandale Beach police lead investigator’s file, there was blunt force trauma to the child’s cranium after his death, likely caused during the search and recovery of the skeleton.

And that, says attorney Ed Hoeg, who is representing the baby’s father, could have an impact on the case against his client.

“If evidence is compromised, it could change how the case goes,” Hoeg said. “You would hope the evidence would be in pristine condition.”

Meanwhile, the missing child’s parents remain in Broward County jails. Brittney Sierra, 21, faces two counts of felony child neglect; Calvin Melvin, 27, was charged with three felony counts of providing false information to police.

But those charges could be increased if a Texas lab confirms that DNA from a tiny skeleton unearthed in January behind the couple’s former Hallandale Beach rental home matches that of their baby, Dontrell Melvin.

Dontrell, who would have turned 2 last month, had not been seen for nearly 18 months before police learned of his disappearance on Jan 9.

At first, Melvin told Hallandale Beach police that the child was with his family in Pompano Beach. But when police went there, they were told by the grandparents that they didn’t have the child and hadn’t seen him.

During questioning by police, Melvin changed his story several times, investigators said.

At one point, he told them he’d taken the baby to a fire station under Florida’s Safe Haven Law.

But police didn’t believe him and began questioning Sierra, as well. The couple, who have another child together, pointed fingers at one another, police said.

Their answers led police to the backyard of their former rental home at 106 NW First Ave.

It was there that tiny bones were found.

Nearly 90 percent of the baby’s remains were recovered and reconstructed. An initial review of the bones did not reveal any trauma to the bones, said Hallandale Beach Police Chief Dwayne Flournoy.

However, on Jan. 25, forensic anthropologist Heather Walsh-Haney briefed investigators, including Flournoy, Maj. Thomas Honan and Capt. P. Abut, on the case. In his notes, a Hallandale Beach investigator, who was not identified, wrote: “Dr. Walsh-Haney stated that there were no signs of perimortem blunt trauma. However, there was evidence of a postmortem blunt trauma to the cranium. She stated that said postmortem trauma had probably occurred during the search and recovery of the skeleton.”

The notes were provided to The Miami Herald by Hoeg.

The damage to the cranium, Hoeg said, could prove problematic for the case against his client.

“If there is only trauma afterward, did the damage destroy evidence?” he said.

But on Friday, Police Chief Flournoy insisted there was not any damage caused post-mortem to the skeleton. “The bones were not compromised in any way,” said Flournoy.

Regardless, the Texas lab working to identify the baby’s remains has enough evidence to work with.

All a scientist needs is a small bone fragment to create a DNA profile, said John Fudenberg, the president-elect for International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners.

“Unless there is significant trauma noted, it’s very difficult for a medical examiner to determine the cause of death,” Fudenberg added.

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'Comrade Bloomy' hailed at Red Hook Fairway reopening

Mayor Bloomberg inspects a portrait held by Fairway CEO Howard Glickberg yesterday at the reopening of the chain’s Brooklyn store.

Paul Martinka

THANKS?Mayor Bloomberg inspects a portrait held by Fairway CEO Howard Glickberg yesterday at the reopening of the chain’s Brooklyn store.

At least there weren’t bread lines.

Mayor Bloomberg celebrated the reopening of Red Hook’s Fairway supermarket yesterday — and was presented with a spray-painted portrait that made him look more like a Soviet dictator than the leader of a First World city.

The artwork — painted by the store’s in-house artist, Floyd Simmons — shows a squinting Bloomberg gazing off in the distance with a strong, square jaw.

Fairway CEO Howard Glickberg proudly presented the painting to Hizzoner at the end of a ceremony marking the Brooklyn store’s grand reopening after it was devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

“Floyd’s a very talented artist,” Glickberg explained.

The mayor — who considered the piece with a thoughtful gaze — also said he liked it.

“He really appreciated the gift and the work that went into making it,” said Marc LaVorgna, the mayor’s spokesman.

But don’t expect to see it hanging in Gracie Mansion — or even the Kremlin — any time soon.

By law, the mayor cannot keep any gift valued at more than $50.

Most presents he receives are stashed away in a storeroom, where they will remain even after he leaves office.

More than 500 people showed up at the popular food store’s reopening ceremony, including Sen. Charles Schumer, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and the reigning Miss America, Mallory Hagan, who was living in Brooklyn when she won her crown.

“It was our grand reopening, but today was more about a grand reopening of Red Hook following the storm and all of Van Brunt Street, much of which is still recovering,” Glickberg said.

The company spent more than $10 million gut-renovating the 39,000-square-foot store, which was flooded with more than four feet of water in the storm.

The renovations included a redesign of the produce section, wider aisles and enlarging the bakeries and cafes.

Although Fairways attract foodies from all over the city, the market is crucial to the neighborhood, since there are few places to shop and no nearby subways.

“This is really the lifeblood of the neighborhood,” said Imre Kovacs, who lives a few blocks away.

Red Hook resident Oona Short said, “A lot of people think Fairway is all about yuppies getting to have 50 different kinds of special olive oils, but for most of us who live in Red Hook and nearby, it’s about being able to get milk, cat litter, bread and other essentials.”

Additional reporting by David Seifman

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Michelle Singletary: College scorecard didn’t pass our tests

With my 17-year-old daughter headed to college, I tried out the new college scorecard tool launched by the Obama administration following the president’s State of the Union address.

I was not impressed. Some links didn’t work and certain information I wanted wasn’t there. Overall, the tool just didn’t add much value to help our family figure out which college would be the most affordable.

The tool, which you can find at, is too general when it comes to the final price of college, what the academic industry calls the “net price.”

“Net price is what undergraduate students pay after grants and scholarships (financial aid you don’t have to pay back) are subtracted from the institution’s cost of attendance,” the scorecard tells us.

Designed by the Department of Education, the scorecard includes the average net price data for in-state students, the school’s graduation rate, loan default rates, and median borrowing. Oh, and the data used for the average net price are for the 2010-11 academic year.

Honestly, given what I’ve been experiencing and after talking to numerous other parents, the college scorecard doesn’t address our most pressing needs. What would help more would be an intensive effort by the administration to bring down the cost of college so families wouldn’t have to borrow so heavily.

During a recent college tour, we saw one parent become very disheartened because her daughter, a good but not great student, wouldn’t be able to afford the cost of college — and she was a state resident visiting a state school. If a degree is a ticket to a middle-class job, then we’ve got to do something about bringing down the price of attending. Even with a lot of merit and need-based scholarship and grant money available, there isn’t nearly enough to go around.

My daughter Olivia, who has excellent grades, applied to four colleges — two in-state schools and two out of state. She was accepted at North Carolina A&T, Towson University and the Honors College at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill turned her down. The UNC rejection notice was nice enough, a more “it’s not you, it’s us” rebuff. “With many more candidates than spaces, we cannot avoid making thousands of difficult decisions,” the vice provost wrote.

My heart sunk when Olivia didn’t get into UNC. But the penny-pincher in me was jumping for joy. We’ve saved for her education, but not enough to pay the $43,848 annual out-of-state price for UNC.

Across the country, families are now waiting for their letters that lay out how much money their kids might get to finance their educations. And when I say money, I don’t mean loans. We are waiting to see if our kid gets a grant, scholarship or work study from the colleges. If that money isn’t offered, many families will opt for loans. We won’t borrow. We hope if our daughter gets aid, we can use what we’ve saved to help her finance an advanced degree, which is increasingly required for many fields.

Roberto Rodriguez, special assistant to the president for education, said the college scorecard is meant to be part of a suite of tools that families can use to help in the college selection process. You can find the tools by going to the National Center for Education Statistics’ website ( and searching for College Navigator.

A useful tool I’m looking forward to is one the administration previously announced, a financial aid shopping sheet. The administration has gotten more than 600 colleges to agree to provide important financial information to incoming freshmen starting with the 2013-14 school year. As part of their financial aid packages, the schools said they would disclose these key pieces of information: They will be clearer about how much one year of college will cost; they will provide a better distinction between grants, scholarships and loans; they will provide estimated monthly payments for the federal student loans that graduates will likely owe; and they will supply information about the percentages of students who enroll from one year to the next, graduate and repay their loans without defaulting.

The shopping sheet is a tool the administration should demand that colleges provide. Right now it’s only voluntary.

As hard as she tried, Olivia also didn’t make the cut for some very lucrative scholarships she applied for. Those letters said much the same as UNC’s rejection letter — that the competition is just too great.

Now we wait, like so many others, hoping we get some money from the schools that do want our daughter.

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Florida man vanishes after being sucked into sinkhole under his bedroom

A sheriff's deputy plucked a man from an expanding sinkhole, but neither was able to save the man's brother from being sucked into the rubble, authorities said.

Early Friday, authorities said the site at 240 Faithway Drive had become too unstable to continue rescue efforts and the focus would instead shift to a recovery operation.

The sinkhole opened late Thursday in the home's backyard, swallowing one of the home's four bedrooms.

Someone called 911, and a deputy reportedly found Jeremy Bush trying to pull his brother, Jeffrey, out of the hole when he arrived.

The deputy pulled Jeremy from the growing hole.

But Jeffrey Bush, 36, disappeared into the rubble.

Janell Wheeler was inside the house with four other adults, a child and two dogs when the sinkhole opened. She sat huddled in a lawn chair Friday morning, covered in a green quilt.

"It sounded like a car hit my house," she said.

It was dark. She remembers screams and Jeremy rushing to rescue his brother.

The rest of the family went to a hotel late Thursday, when the house was condemned and neighbors evacuated. But she stayed behind with her dog Baby Girl, sleeping in her Ford Focus.

"I just want my nephew," she said through tears.

Family members returned to the home around 7:30 a.m. Jeremy Bush leaned on a patrol car and cried, his chin shaking as his eyes filled with tears.

He said he just gone to bed when he heard a loud noise and cries for help from his brother's room.

Jeremy opened the door and found the dresser and bed had disappeared into a hole. He jumped in and began to dig. But he heard nothing more from his brother before the deputy pulled him from the rubble.

"I couldn't do anything," Jeremy said Friday, in front of the house where his brother was still buried. "Everything in the room was gone.

"I just wanted to get my brother back," he said. "That's all I wanted."

Wheeler paced the sidewalk nearby and hugged relatives. "It's a dream, right?" she said.

She still wore her blue plaid pajamas.

The rest of the neighborhood area bustled Friday morning with rescuers and neighbors and TV trucks straining to catch a glimpse of the sinkhole, apparently entirely contained within the one-story, four-bedroom home, which records show was built in 1974.

Rescue crews lowered listening devices and cameras into the hole, but found no signs of life, a Fire Rescue spokeswoman said — only more signs of collapse.

Heavy equipment was standing by for a recovery operation and ground-penetrating radar was brought in early Friday to help gauge the extent of the hole, which Fire Rescue says had grown to be about 20 feet deep and 30 feet wide.

Although it has proven somewhat common for sinkholes to open in Central Florida and swallow cars and houses, it is not at all common for people to become trapped in them.

In March 2011, a woman taking pictures in her Plant City back yard plunged into a hole when it opened beneath her.

But she clung on to her cellphone and was able to call for help. Only her fingertips peeked from the ground when an officer arrived, but he was able to pull her to safety.

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100-foot sinkhole swallows man inside bedroom

A large sinkhole opened under the bedroom of a house near Tampa, trapping a 36-year-old man in the rubble.

The home collapsed late Thursday in a Seffner neighborhood. By early Friday, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue officials determined the home had become too unstable to continue rescue efforts.

"Right now, the potential for a collapse is very, very high," Jessica Damico, a Hillsborough Fire and Rescue spokeswoman told

"There was no furniture. All he saw was a piece of the mattress sticking up," Damico said.

There's been no contact with the man since then and neighbors on both sides of the Seffner home have been evacuated.


The house that was partially swallowed by a 100-foot sinkhole in Tampa, Florida.

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Would-be convention center developers make pitches to Miami Beach residents

Developers on Wednesday presented Miami Beach residents with competing ideas for what the city’s Convention Center could look like after an overhaul.

It was the public’s first glimpse of what could become of the 52-acre site. Two heavy-hitting teams are competing for the project, which could cost up to $1 billion.

Both teams – Portman-CMC and South Beach ACE – stressed that the concepts presented Wednesday were only preliminary ideas.

Both teams’ proposals focus on creating lush greenscapes and ways to connect the enormous convention center with abutting neighborhoods – things that residents at a prior public meeting asked of the developers.

To do that, Portman-CMC, the team led by Portman Holdings, proposed several scenarios. In one, a diagonal plaza would grace the corner of the current convention center property, creating a string of parks to connect the center to the existing Miami Beach Botanical Garden and SoundScape Park.

The design focused on creating shade through both the buildings and landscaping, which is basically nonexistent now.

“This place is a black hole in terms of green, in terms of trees. We aim to change that," said Jamie Maslyn Larson, a Partner of West 8, the company partnering with Portman to landscape the project.

West 8 also worked on Miami Beach’s SoundScape Park, which features free outdoor movies and audio and video feeds of performances at the adjoining New World Symphony.

South Beach ACE, the team led by Tishman Hotel and Realty, proposed an underground parking area to hide idling trucks and buses – an issue that residents have complained about. Above the parking lot would be a rolling greenspace, and views of the now-ignored Collins Canal would be incorporated.

World-renowned architect Rem Koolhaas, part of the South Beach ACE team, called the current convention center a "serious problem" in the middle of the "idyllic" Miami Beach. His team’s design aims to correct that.

Tishman’s proposal also preserves the current Jackie Gleason Theater. Residents have debated whether the theater, which is not deemed historic, deserves to be preserved. The Tishman proposal would essentially remove a back wall of the theater to create a two-stage amphitheater.

Portman-CMC has not made a decision about whether the theater itself would stay, but spoke to preserving the legacy of Gleason himself. The team launched a website to get more resident feedback about its proposal:

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Miami-Dade mayor says partnerships, technology will move county forward

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez will deliver his annual speech to the county Thursday, laying out his goals for revving up the local economy, promoting regional cooperation and improving a public transportation system that is, at best, inadequate.

In a wide-ranging interview previewing his state-of-the-county speech, Gimenez told The Miami Herald that he is optimistic about the county’s future, citing improved economic indicators and a record year for business at Miami International Airport and PortMiami, two major economic engines.

“I think we’re a hot commodity, and people are starting to see our potential,” he said. “We just need to keep our eye on the ball.”

Unlike his first speech a year ago, the political pressure is off this time for Gimenez, who in August was elected to his first full term in office. His first year amounted to a red-shirt season, completing the term of former Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who was ousted in a 2011 recall.

In Thursday’s speech, to be delivered at Liberty City’s Joseph Caleb Center, Gimenez will announce the creation of an advisory group to study rising property-insurance rates and make recommendations about how to lobby state lawmakers on the issue. The Florida Legislature regulates Citizens Property Insurance, the state’s insurer of last resort, which recently increased homeowners’ insurance rates and scaled back coverage.

“We’re going to look at why our people here are getting slammed,” Gimenez said.

A similar task force made recommendations last month to improve the county elections process. The county, however, generally has more control over elections than over property insurance.

The mayor will also promote an initiative — begun with Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and already underway — to prevent youth violence. And he will tout a new partnership announced Wednesday in which the county will take part in technology giant IBM’s Smart cities program, which lets local governments test and use software to better analyze municipal data.

Among his successes in office, Gimenez will mention streamlining permitting at some county agencies — in some cases by three months, he said — posting employee salaries online and providing internships in his office to college students.

Looking to spur entrepreneurship and create local jobs, Gimenez’s administration also has committed $1 million in funding over four years to Launch Pad, in conjunction with the University of Miami. Launch Pad is a public/private partnership that introduces young technology businesses to each other to help them grow.

In his speech, the mayor will also throw his support behind Endeavor, a global nonprofit that works to accelerate entrepreneurship in metropolitan areas. The organization plans to set up shop in Miami after receiving a $2 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Taking the long view, Gimenez said he hopes to make it easier for commuters to take public transportation between Miami Beach and the mainland and from Kendall to the urban core. The mayor said he doesn’t have any specific plans yet — or money to finance them — but said that clogged streets are getting in the way of residents’ productivity.

By way of example, Gimenez said he left County Hall in downtown Miami at 5 p.m. on a recent afternoon for a 6:30 p.m. event at the Hammocks, in West Kendall.

“I didn’t make it,” he said. “I can’t imagine your having to do that every day. We’re wasting time. We’re spending money. We’re spending gas.”

For those and other big-ticket improvements, including looming, extensive water-and-sewer piping that will have to be replaced soon because it is so antiquated, Gimenez said Miami-Dade won’t be able to count on much state or federal financial aid. Instead, there will be some water-rate hikes in coming years, he said, and future transportation projects might be partnerships involving heavy private-sector investments.

“More and more, it’s likely that we’re going to have to do these things ourselves,” he said.

Better than going at it alone, Gimenez said, would be teaming up with counties with similar issues to share ideas and work together for funding and state support. To that end, Gimenez had dinner last year in St. Petersburg with the mayors of Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa. He also has hosted the mayors of Broward and Palm Beach counties to brainstorm ways to work together.

“People have been very good and very successful at dividing us, and we’ve done that to ourselves,” Gimenez said. “We should have a lot more in common than we have differences.”

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Former Martha Stewart CEO Susan Lyne to run AOL's brands

AOL has hired one of its board members, former Martha Stewart Living CEO Susan Lyne, to run the AOL portfolio of brands.

The Internet company said Thursday that as CEO of its Brand Group, Lyne will be responsible for increasing traffic across its properties, bringing top talent on board and maximizing partnerships with advertisers and publishers.

Lyne takes over at the Brand Group from chief operating officer Arthur Minson, who was overseeing the company's three divisions. He will stay on during a transition period.

AOL says Lyne's experience as CEO and chairman of the retail shopping site Gilt, as well as her time as president and CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, should help her at AOL. She also served as president of ABC Entertainment.


Susan Lyne

AOL says Lyne currently serves as Gilt's vice chairman and will continue in that position.

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Don’t get too personal on LinkedIn

Have you ever received a request to connect on LinkedIn from someone you didn’t know or couldn’t remember?

A few weeks ago, Josh Turner encountered this situation. The online request to connect came from a businessman on the opposite coast of the United States. It came with a short introduction that ended with “Let’s go Blues!” a reference to Turner’s favorite hockey team in St. Louis that he had mentioned in his profile. “It was a personal connection … that’s building rapport.”

LinkedIn is known for being the professional social network where members expect you to keep buttoned-down behavior and network online like you would at a business event. With more than 200 million registered users, the site facilitates interaction as a way to boost your stature, gain a potential customer or rub elbows with a future boss.

But unlike most other social networking sites, LinkedIn is all about business — and you need to take special care that you act accordingly. As in any workplace, the right amount of personal information sharing could be the foot in the door, say experts. The wrong amount could slam it closed.

“Anyone in business needs a professional online presence,’’ says Vanessa McGovern, the VP of Business Development for the Global Institute for Travel Entrepreneurs and a consultant to business owners on how to use LinkedIn. But they should also heed LinkedIn etiquette or risk sending the wrong messages.

One of the biggest mistakes, McGovern says is getting too personal — or not personal enough.

Sending a request to connect blindly equates to cold calling and likely will lead nowhere. Instead, it should come with a personal note, an explanation of who you are, where you met, or how the connection can benefit both parties, McGovern explains.

Your profile should get a little personal, too, she says. “Talk about yourself in the first person and add a personal flair — your goals, your passion … make yourself seem human.”

Beyond that, keep your LinkedIn posts, invitations, comments and photos professional, McGovern says.

If you had a hard day at the office or your child just won an award, you may want to share it with your personal network elsewhere — but not on LinkedIn.

“This is not Facebook. Only share what you would share at a professional networking event,” she says.

Another etiquette pitfall on LinkedIn is the hit and run — making a connection and not following up.

At least once a week, Ari Rollnick, a principal in kabookaboo, an integrated marketing agency in Coral Gables, gets a request to connect with someone on LinkedIn that he has never met or heard of before. The person will have no connections in common and share no information about why they want to build a rapport.

“I won’t accept. That’s a lost opportunity for them,” Rollnick says.

He approaches it differently. When Rollnick graduated from Emory with an MBA in 2001, he had a good idea that his classmates would excel in the business world. Now, Rollnick wanted to find out just where they went and reestablish a connection.

With a few clicks, he tracked down dozens of them on LinkedIn, requested a connection, and was back on their radar. Then came the follow-up — letting them know through emails, phone calls and posts that he was creating a two-way street for business exchange. “Rather than make that connection and disappearing , I let them know I wanted to open the door to conversation.”

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Two charged with taking protected live sharks from the Keys

For the second time in weeks, federal prosecutors have ordered the arrest of people for illegally taking live sharks out of the Florida Keys.

Two officials of Idaho Aquarium Inc. in Boise were indicted on federal charges of conspiracy and illegally purchasing four spotted eagle rays and two lemon sharks, all protected species and all from Keys waters.

Ammon Covino, 39, president of Idaho Aquarium, and corporate secretary Christopher Conk, 40, were arraigned late last week in Idaho and ordered to appear in U.S. District Court in Key West on March 15.

The Idaho Aquarium is a display facility covering 10,000 square feet operating in a converted Boise warehouse. Listed as a nonprofit educational center, the aquarium opened in late 2011. It claims to offer "over 250 different species of animals and marine life" for the $9 adult admission fee.

The indictment from November was unsealed this month.

On Feb. 7, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami unsealed a separate indictment against two Broward County aquarium suppliers. They were charged with conspiracy to acquire and resell juvenile nurse sharks without a required permit, and angelfish larger than the maximum size allowed. Those fish from the Keys allegedly were sold to a Michigan buyer.

"While both cases relate to the marine living resources of the Florida Keys and involve violations of the Lacey Act, predicated in part on [Florida law], there is no public record material to suggest there is any other relationship between the cases," said Alicia Valle, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.

In the indictment against Idaho Aquarium and its officials, prosecutor Thomas Watts-Fitzgerald wrote that the defendants knowingly conspired with fish collectors in the Keys to have the rays and sharks captured without permits and shipped north.

After being offered $1,250 for each live eagle ray, an unnamed fish collector eventually told Covino that permits needed to take the rays could not be obtained. Covino reportedly answered, "Just start doing it.... Who gives a ...".

The collector reportedly shipped three eagle rays in May 2012 and another in June 2012. All were sent to Covino at the Idaho Aquarium.

A second unnamed collector reportedly was solicited by Conk in June for two lemon sharks. The collector said no capture permits for lemon sharks are being issued so "the transaction would have to be conducted on the 'down low,' " the indictment says.

In a later conversation, Covino is accused of saying the lack of permits for the lemon sharks was "no big deal." The lemon sharks were purchased for $650 each and sent to Idaho in October.

Neither collector was named in the indictment.

According to the U.S. District Court documents, Covino and Conk could receive prison terms of up to five years on each of four counts.

The Idaho Aquarium could be fined $500,000. The government is seeking to seize Conk's 2005 Ford pickup truck, reportedly used to transport the fish from an airport.

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