MIAMI – Chronically homeless and recently blinded, Ronald Poppo calmly told detectives about the sudden savage assault that cost him parts of his face.
He said a man in a green shirt got out of a car he had hitchhiked in, complaining about not being able to score on the beach. The man seemed friendly enough at first, he said, but then went from being in a “glad mood” to singing the 1960s tune “A Lover’s Concerto" and saying “you are going to be my wife.” Then he “turned vicious after a minute or two, and he started to rip me apart.”
“He attacked me. He just ripped me to ribbons. He chewed up my face. He plucked out my eyes. Basically, that’s all there is to say about it,” Poppo told Miami police investigators in a recorded interview obtained and first reported by Miami Herald news partner CBS4. Poppo is heard for the first time describing the May 26 assault by a crazed assailant who “must have had a bad day at the beach.” It was the attack that catapulted Poppo out of his anonymous life in the city’s shadows onto the front pages of newspapers around the world.
His recorded interview took place July 19 at Jackson Memorial Perdue Medical Center, a long-term-care facility in Cutler Bay. He told detectives that he was standing on the street, when he heard a car door slam and saw a man appear. The man was bigger than Poppo. It was a Saturday, at about 2 p.m. Masses of revelers were partying in Miami Beach for Urban Beach Week. Poppo was on the MacArthur Causeway, minding his own business, when he was approached by Rudy Eugene, a 31-year-old who washed cars, and liked to smoke marijuana and quote the Bible.
“For a while he was acting nice. Then he got flustered. He probably remembered something that happened on the beach and was not happy about it,” Poppo said.
He said Eugene said something about wanting “to score” and not being able to.
Eugene, he said, started talking funny. He started to scream. He seemed preoccupied with death, Poppo recalled. Although he did not mention it in the taped interview, Poppo said in a later meeting with police that Eugene accused him of stealing his Bible.
“For a very short amount of time I thought he was a good guy,” he said. “But he just went and turned berserk.”
He remembered Eugene telling him that they would both die.
“‘You and me buddy and nobody else,’” he quoted Eugene as saying. “He must have been souped up on something.”
Poppo described how Eugene chewed his face and gouged his eyes out using only “brute force.” Eugene, he said, carried no weapon.
“He mashed my face into the sidewalk,” he said. “My face is all bent and bashed up. My eyes, my eyes got plucked out. He was strangling me in wrestling holds, at the same time he was picking my eyes out.”
The attack ended with five blasts from Miami Officer Jose Ramirez’s gun, killing Eugene.
A detective asked Poppo if he had provoked Eugene. “What could provoke an attack of that type?” Poppo responded. “I didn’t curse at the guy or say anything mean or nasty.”
No information ever surfaced to explain Eugene’s bizarre behavior. Speculation that he was high on so-called “bath salts” was debunked by a medical examiner’s report, which showed that Eugene had only marijuana in his system.
“He apparently didn’t have a good day at the beach, and he – he was coming back, and I guess he took it out, took it out on me or something. I don’t know,” Poppo said.
Poppo spent several weeks at Jackson Memorial Hospital being treated for his injuries before being transferred.