Friday, July 10, 2009

Dean without borders

Here's a story I did for "Horizons," the alumni magazine for Nova Southeastern University in Broward County, Florida, Summer 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Don't mention God here!

This story, which turned out to be one of the last I wrote for the Sun Sentinel, caused a great sensation. It went out on the Internet and whipped around the world, quickly attracting 175,000 hits and getting lots of play on, you guessed it, Fox News. I wrote it as straight-down-the-middle news story. But the reason it got so much attention is the absurdity of the hospice position: so afraid of offense, it reduces a chaplain's message to pabulum.


By Howard Goodman
Sun Sentinel Staff Writer

A chaplain at Hospice by the Sea in Boca Raton has resigned, she says, over a ban on use of the words "God" or "Lord" in public settings.

Chaplains still speak freely of the Almighty in private sessions with patients or families, but the Rev. Mirta Signorelli said: "I can't do chaplain's work if I can't say 'God' - if I'm scripted."

Hospice CEO Paula Alderson said the ban on religious references applies only to the inspirational messages that chaplains deliver in staff meetings. The hospice remains fully comfortable with ministers, priests and rabbis offering religious counsel to the dying and grieving.

"I was sensitive to the fact that we don't impose religion on our staff, and that it is not appropriate in the context of a staff meeting to use certain phrases or 'God' or 'Holy Father,' because some of our staff don't believe at all," Alderson said.

Signorelli, of Royal Palm Beach, said the hospice policy has a chilling effect that goes beyond the monthly staff meetings. She would have to watch her language, she said, when leading a prayer in the hospice chapel, when meeting patients in the public setting of a nursing home and in weekly patient conferences with doctors, nurses and social workers.

"If you take God away from me," she said, "it's like taking a medical tool away from a nurse."

Saturday, January 31, 2009

An unknown for too long

This started out as a follow-up to a news brief: An accident victim, probably an illegal immigrant, left no ID and authorities couldn't figure out who he was. Several weeks went by, and I was asked to try to profile this man from the few clues he left behind. Before I could get the story in the paper, investigators solved the puzzle. It looked like we had no story -- until we learned that this guy hadn't been quite so unknown after all, and that the authorities had failed the man's relatives in the most fundamental way.

Mystery, then grief
Despite report, it took more than a month to ID accident victim
Date: Saturday, January 31, 2009
Edition: Palm Beach Section: Local Page: 1B

Byline: By Howard Goodman and Erika Pesantes Staff Writers

For five weeks the accident victim was an unknown -- a corpse in a cooler in the county morgue, case number 08-1379.

He was carrying no ID when he stepped in front of an oncoming SUV five days before Christmas on Military Trail west of Lake Worth.

No one recognized his picture when Gary Pace, a sheriff's investigator, took a photo door to door.

No one was asking about him or appeared to miss him, Pace said in mid-January, frustrated by a paucity of leads and haunted by the thought that a family somewhere -- in Central America, he guessed -- was missing kin.

Finally, this week, Pace and a Spanish-speaking assistant, working the numbers on the dead man's cell phone, found an acquaintance.

Their victim was Jorge "Jose" Francisco Velasquez, 30, a native of Guatemala, last living in a home along Haverhill Road about a mile from where he had been killed on impact.

Velasquez was not so unknown after all. His brother and other relatives had filed a missing-person report with the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office. That report was on file even as the sheriff's Vehicle Homicide Unit was trying to identify the victim. But no one connected the two.

Velasquez's brother, Norberto Velasquez, a nursery worker who lives west of Lake Worth, said he began wondering about Velasquez's whereabouts the night of the accident, Dec. 20.

Besides filing the missing-person report Dec. 26, Norberto Velasquez and a sister-in-law, Blanca Manuel, said they searched three hospitals for Jose Velasquez, a landscaping worker who had cognitive problems and was often disoriented. They checked the jail, though Jose Velasquez had never been arrested. They said they checked the morgue three or four times.

Everywhere, authorities said they had no information.

"I don't know how in the world this could have happened," said Sue Steel, a medical examiner's forensic investigator assigned to the case. "You just feel bad for the family.

"It's sad to think that they had to keep coming back here," she added.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The decline and fall of a favorite market

This story was conceived as simple salute to a well-known store that went under. In reporting it, however, I found a story that hadn't been told: the store's misfortunes were the result not of bad weather and a bad roof, as everyone thought, but of bad management.

Fallen King's Market to be auctioned

For some, this is final indignity for the gourmet grocery that had ruled supreme

Date: Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Edition: Palm Beach Section: Local Page: 1B
Dateline: Boca Raton
Byline: By Howard Goodman Staff Writer

The building stands empty, stripped of its name and streaked with graffiti.

And now a further indignity: A billboard proclaims that the building and grounds of the former King's Gourmet Market -almost 2 acres at

a high-profile Boca Raton intersection -are up for auction.

Bids start at $3.9 million. Principal owner Jeff Sussman is telling all comers that the site, on Military Trail just south of Glades

Road, is perfect for high-end retail, a restaurant, an office tower.

"It's a unique situation," says Sussman, who sports the longish hair of a 1980s rocker and the eternal optimism of a serial entrepreneur.

But to people connected to King's Market in its heyday -- when gleaming fruits and vegetables piled irresistibly in perfect pyramids, when fresh-made loaves of bread filled the bakery counter, when the meat and fish departments groaned with tantalizing cuts and catches -- the auction denotes heartbreak.

King's shut down a year and a half ago, when broken trusses in the ceiling prompted city officials to order the 29-year-old market closed at once.

Seventy-five people lost their jobs.

Yet there's more to this regicide than a broken crown. Some ex-employees and others say that King's was on a crash course ever since the founding Costa family sold it in 2005.

"It took a year and a half to put a $15 million business out of business," 20-year employee Arnold Levine said with bitter wonderment.