Former Cuban Olympian Smashes SUV Into Airport Terminal
Police and airport authorities in Fort Lauderdale (FL) are
picking up the pieces after an SUV, driven by a former Olympic
medalist from Cuba, slammed into the terminal at Fort
Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
"We thought it was terrorists," said Philadelphia resident June
DeLuca, who was in the terminal at the time. She was interviewed by
the Miami Herald. "I thought we were all gonna die."
The red Lincoln Navigator smashed its way through the doors of
Terminal 3 Sunday morning, blasting through the ticket counter and
hitting a wall. Amazingly, only the driver, 33-year old Alexis
Vila, was injured.
Monday, authorities were at a loss to explain why Vila drove his
vehicle into the terminal. A wrestler and bronze medal weightlifter
in the 1996 Olympics, Vila defected from his native Cuba in 1997.
He is now a Michigan resident. After he crashed into the Southeast
Airlines ticket counter, authorities say he tried to run away. He
was tackled by two deputies and an air marshal, all of whom
witnessed the bizarre incident.
Fortunately, passenger traffic at the airport was relatively
light Sunday, right in the middle of the holiday weekend.
"If this would've been yesterday [Saturday], there would have
been 100 people here," airport spokesman Steve Belleme told the
Herald. "There are times of the day where there's a queue going out
Authorities said Vilas (shown above, throwing a Pennsylvania
wrestler during a 2001 match) hit the terminal at a relatively high
rate of speed, with no apparent intention of stopping.
"There's not a skid mark. It's not like he tried to stop," said
Broward County Sheriff's spokesman Hugh Graf. Damage to the
terminal building was estimated at $100,000.
The Security Question
So how did this Olympian and his SUV make it all the way into
the terminal? Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne said, ever since the
September 11th terrorist attacks, he's been telling airport
officials to install barriers between the terminal sidewalk and the
curb to prevent just such an occurrence.
"We felt very strongly that it's in everybody's interest to do
it," Jenne told the Miami paper. "They have not done it. We would
continue recommending . . . it. An automobile would have a very
difficult time, if not an impossible time, getting through
What did county officials in charge
of security improvements at the airport have to say about Jenne's
recommendations? Nothing. They hadn't heard of them.
"You can do all the best security initiatives you can think of,
and people are creative and find ways around them," Broward County
Mayor Ilene Lieberman told the Herald.
In the wake of the drive-through incident, the TSA's eastern
field director, Lauren Stover, promised to meet with both airport
officials and Sheriff Jenne. "We're going to work with the airport
to make sure from the curb to the cockpit that things are safe,"
she said. "There's a lot of things we can require of an airport
that can end up putting them out of business. We have to work with
them to balance out the security needs with real-time threats."