Maryland mother determined to get answers in son's death despite police declaring 'case closed'

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By Veronica Fulton

Born on Earth Day in 1987, Joseph Miranda always had a green thumb and a love for “critters,” according to his mother Adrienne Miranda.

In 2005, 19-year-old Joseph had recently graduated from high school in Towson, Maryland and planned to attend college. Joseph’s mother Adrienne told Dateline her son knew he wanted to be a landscaping architect and decided to gain more experience before attending college. So he got a summer job at Outside Unlimited, a local landscaping company. Adrienne told Dateline that within five months, Joseph received two promotions and ended up being a foreman. She said the other employees there told her that her son was a quick study.

Joseph lived with his mother while he worked at the landscaping company. Adrienne told Dateline that on July 20, 2006, her son left home in the morning to go to work as usual. He would typically return home in the early evening, around 6:00 p.m., she said. When Adrienne arrived home later that night, she expected to find Joseph there. But the house was empty. Adrienne told Dateline she initially assumed Joseph went out after work, as he sometimes did, to shoot pool with coworkers and friends. But a call from her ex-husband, Joseph’s father Bob, around 11:00 p.m. changed everything.

“His voice was shaking, and he told me our baby was gone,” Adrienne said. “I started screaming and crying, like, ‘What do you mean, gone?’”

He then told Adrienne what had happened.

“Bob told me that he was run over by an industrial piece of equipment at work,” Adrienne said. “It was the most agonizing heartbreak.”

Adrienne told Dateline that she then also received a call from the Maryland State Police notifying her that her 19-tear-old son was dead. According to Adrienne, police told her Joseph had died around 3:30 p.m. that afternoon.

“It just didn’t make any sense. It was a living nightmare,” Adrienne said.

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Baltimore County Police Department spokesperson Officer Jennifer Peace told Dateline that multiple agencies responded to the scene at the time, and the investigation began.

According to the police reports obtained by The Baltimore Sun, police soon discovered that near the end of Joseph’s shift on July 20, he was assigned a task and wanted to use the Bobcat machine to perform it. According to the reports, a coworker told him to wait until they were done using it. Joseph’s coworkers have since given varying accounts of what happened with the machinery. Officer Jennifer Peach told Dateline Joseph ended up jumping up onto the machine while someone else was driving it. Officer Peach said it was difficult for the driver to see Joseph who then fell off of the machine and wound up trapped underneath it.

In the police reports reviewed by The Baltimore Sun, one coworker said another coworker had been fighting with Joseph and that’s how Joseph had ended up underneath the machine. The accused coworker said he and Joseph were “playing around,” but maintained that Joseph slipped off the machine and that’s how he fell under the front of the wheel.

Joseph’s mother Adrienne told Dateline she does not believe her son just slipped off the machine to his death.

“It was physically impossible, with the way Joseph was laying, for him to have fallen off the front of the machine,” Adrienne alleges.

Officer Peach told Dateline that the medical examiner initially ruled it an accidental death. The State’s Attorney’s Office of Baltimore County agreed, she added, and it seemed as though the case would never be processed as a crime.

But Adrienne was determined to fight for her son. Four years after Joseph’s death, Adrienne hired her own forensic engineer. The engineer did not believe Joseph’s death could have been an accident based on the physics of how Joseph would have to have fallen to be lying where he was underneath the equipment, according to Adrienne.

Then, in 2011, a state medical examiner named Dr. Zubiullah Ali wrote a letter to the State’s Attorney for Baltimore County, Scott Shellenberger, saying, “There is no plausible explanation as to why Mr. Miranda was in a face-down position, while run over by the Bobcat.”

Dr. Ali then wrote, “As the death was caused by the action of another person, the manner of death is best re-classified as a homicide.”

According to The Baltimore Sun, since the medical examiner concluded Joseph had died “at the hands of another,” the Baltimore County Police were then forced to add Joseph’s name to their annual tally of killings and officially rule his case a homicide. Baltimore County Police spokesperson Officer Peach told Dateline authorities maintain that Joseph’s death was accidental, despite the medical examiner’s changed ruling, adding that Adrienne Miranda “coerced the medical examiner into changing it from accident to ‘negligence by a supervisor.’” Officer Peach told Dateline that the medical examiners are “taking a look at after-the-fact information, while our department was there on the scene, looking at actual information and getting actual witness testimony from the time of the event.” Officer Peach continued, emphasizing, “We deal in facts, not presumptions made by friends and family traumatized by an incident.”

The State’s Attorney for Baltimore County, Scott Shellenberger, agreed with police, saying, “there will be no further inquiry, no arrest, no grand jury, no trial, no criminal charges” in Joseph’s death.

Joseph’s mother Adrienne told Dateline she believes the investigation into her son’s death was not conducted thoroughly or properly and she is still searching for answers. “I will never give up. I know my son didn’t do anything to deserve this,” Adrienne said.

Adrienne told Dateline the only thing found in Joseph’s pockets was a penny. When she looked at the penny, the first thing Adrienne saw were the words, “In God We Trust,” and then the year on the penny: 1972. Adrienne found this significant, as Joseph was 19 years old and killed on July 20– 7/20. To keep her son’s memory close, Adrienne had the penny made into a pendant that she wears every day.

“He had so many hopes and dreams,” Adrienne said. “It’s been 13 years I’ve been fighting for justice for my child, and I will not stop.”

If you have any information on what happened the day Joseph Miranda died, please contact the Baltimore County Police Department at (410) 887-2214.