The following is a true story of a scary and heart pounding incident that took place in the border town area of Tijuana Mexico. Some might site it as an example of the reason people are afraid to come to Mexico. Some might be warmed by the outcome and those that contributed to it. …… you be the judge.
It happened to U.S. citizens Pete and Rosemary Morris. The Morris’s, married for over 27 years, are residents of Mission Viejo California, but have also owned a beach condo in Mexico 7 miles south of Rosarito Beach for over 20 years. They have been coming to their condo most every Friday through Sunday and returning to Mission Viejo Monday through Thursday.
However, last week was going to be special. Rosemary declared – “It’s my birthday this Thursday. I think I should take my first ever Thursday off from work, leave around 5:30pm, and get to our Villas Marena condo in time to watch the season premier of ‘Survivor’, and have the whole day Thursday to do whatever for my 66th birthday”.
Pete had already given her a kitchen makeover for her main present, but had worked especially hard on a purse-size family photo album. He figured that being off Thursday for her birthday, he could make a special deal with the extra gift, some flowers, and coffee…. all delivered in bed. It would be a perfect start to a birthday weekend.
So at 5:30pm, off they went in their 4 Runner “mexicar” — Rosemary, her husband Pete, and their two cats – Misty and Little Bug.
There was no traffic to speak of. They arrived at the Mexico border at 7pm. However, on the Tijuana side, there was a problem at the side road leading to the toll road. Police had stopped entrance to the turn off, leaving them to go into town and find a way to either the toll road or Rosarito. (It would later become an important factor that Thursday and Friday were being celebrated for the – the 200th Anniversary of the Independence of Mexico from the Spanish.)
Not sure of the correct route, they found their way into the hills of south-east Tijuana.
Rosemary, who was driving, decided to stop and ask someone at a local grocery store how to find the way to the toll road. A friendly man, who spoke both English and Spanish fluently, explained how to get there. He said – “you will come to a stop sign. Then, you’ll see a cemetery on your left and a steep hill on your right, then …..”…….. and so on, and so forth.
Thinking they had found their way at last, Rosemary thanked the man and drove off. She stopped at the sign, preceded at about 15-20 mph. After about 200 feet —the hopes for a birthday weekend came crashing down.
Out of the steep hill on our right came a young male bike rider….. going at full speed…. with no apparent intention on stopping or slowing down….. and crsash …. smashed into the side of our 4 Runner…. Flying over the hood and landing on the ground. All of this in about 1.5 seconds.
Pete was to later recall – “In all of about 0.5 of a second: I saw this 15-18 year old boy racing off the hill towards our car; pictured him injured; and though it would not be our fault, Rosemary would have to go to jail because an injury will be involved’; my celebration plans for her Birthday would be ruined.
It was 7:30pm
Rosemary, after stopping the car, exited and yelled at the young boy, who was trying to subsequently run away, to “Lay down” then yelled to bystanders “Call the police. Polizia”. Rosemary felt secure in knowing she was innocent of any wrong doing, and had insurance that would pay for any lawyer, bond, impound, or other fees.
The Police started arriving, along with an ambulance. There were at least ten government vehicles on the scene. Rosemary was put in a squad car and Pete was allowed to drive the 4 Runner fully escorted by 3 Police trucks to the Las Playas Police Station.
Pete arrived at Las Playas station. He was asked to leave his car. Pete informed the deputy that they had two cats that could not be left. The deputy took the car keys but allowed Pete to remain with the car. He was as nervous as he had ever been….. wondering what had happened to his wife.
In the meantime, Rosemary had been taken to another accident first, then to two other Police stations in Tijuana, then to get gas, then finally to the Police station in Las Playas. She was treated well . The Police officer spoke perfect English, was very professional and respectful. Never once did Rosemary have any concern for her safety.
Rosemary, while with the Police officer, started calling friends. Of course all out friends go to bed early so she just started leaving messages to pick up the phone. Our dear neighbor saw the blinking light on her answer machine and heard my distressful please pick up. She started calling all our phone lines. (House and 2 cells) They all went to voice mail. Our neighbor later said she thought Rosemary was being kidnapped. (They have now developed a plan that if they need help they are to say where they are and where they are going and a telephone number if possible.)
At both Police stations in Tijuana where she was taken, the Police Officer presented her case to a DA hoping to get her released instead of having to spend the night in custody. Basically, they both said to keep her in custody. The policeman who was with her knew she was not at fault and decided to take her to another police department in Las Playas, a community out of Tijuana that was “friendlier”(and nearer Rosarito Beach). This was a nice officer.
Rosemary arrived at Las Playas. The officer had stopped at a good reception spot on the way which allowed Rosemary to again call and finally reach Rita and David Goldberg our neighbors. She told them of her plight and asked if they could pick up Pete, the car items, and the cats. She asked Rita if she knew where the Police Dept was located and Rita said, “No, I”ll find it, don’t worry” . And hung up.
Pete, nervously waiting alone in their soon to be taken car, called Miles Smith, his old fishing partner and the most resourceful man he had ever met. Pete explained the situation as best he knew, and said Rosemary needed Miles’s help with a lawyer. Miles said not worry — he would take care of it
Rita and David show up. The 4 Runner which was packed, was unloaded and everything is put on the curb in front of the Police station. Rosemary hearing Rita’s voice asks if she can help with the cats. She was allowed to help as long as she had a Police escort. They loaded everything into David and Rita’s car, which was no small feat.
Rosemary is back inside the Police station. She asks for help calling her insurance adjuster. She is told he would be there in 45 minutes. While waiting, a gentleman walks up to her and laid his hand on her shoulder and says, “A friend sent me. Do not worry. I will take care of you and I won’t leave”. She had no idea who this man is or what friend sent him as at the time she was unaware that Pete had called Miles Smith.
The insurance adjuster arrives and informs Rosemary that she is not insured. Knowing that is impossible because she just paid the renewal two weeks prior and the check she had written had already been cashed. The adjuster said it was probably just a clerical error and he would continue to work on it.
The Police tell Rosemary that she is going to PGJE main jail in downtown Tijuana, and that it will be at least another 4 hours before she is released. Pete, Rita, David decide to head back to Club Marena to unload the car and get the cats back to their home. … then return.
11:30pm – 2:00am
Locating the PGJE station was not easy. Some officer escorted everyone to the correct place. Another officer, the expert in writing accident reports, gave us the bad news that Rosemary could not go home. She would have to stay overnight. This was like a dagger into Pete’s heart.
“Stay overnight, in this jail, in Tijuana, on the night of her birthday”, Pete railed. “This is not right. It is cruel”.
They allowed Pete, followed by Rita, to see her. She was in better spirits than Pete.
Rita gave her a blanket, and a sweater to use as a pillow. Rosemary had only a chair in the 15X20 jail. She shared the room with a frightened young women and a derelict male who mostly slept.
The good news was that everyone had a cell phone which allowed, especially Pete, to stay close to Rosemary. The bad news was that the phones had limited battery power and calling had to be monitored.
Meanwhile, another insurance adjuster shows up and again confirms that she has no insurance even though she has an insurance card. Of course always assuming the worst, she wonders if the Insurance broker kept the money and did not get a carrier. She always paid extra for lawyer fees, impound fees, and bail fees. To not have these things would be a disaster. For future reference, your policy should always be attached to your proof of insurance card.
Both Rita and Pete would say — “She was incredible. She was full of humor, and hope. Not much shakes her.” At least she seemed that way on the outside.
Knowing she is in for the night, cell phones declining, and everyone very tired — Pete, Rita, and David called “goodnight” and left for their condo. The attorney promises to be back first thing in the morning. Pete calls her often. He fell asleep at 3:30am.
5:30am – Thursday, Sept 16 – Rosemary’s Birthday
Rosemary called Pete from her jail cell and said that he ought to wait until 9:00am so he could talk with Eduardo, and also that it would take a few hours before the paper work would be ready. Pete gathers magazines and some books, and makes coffee. Then he went over to Rita and David’s.
9:00am – 3:00pm
Pete, Rita, David go to PGJE bringing the coffee, some food, books, and most important, a fresh charged cell phone.
Pete first went in to see his wife. She was happy to get the items that were brought. She seemed in good spirits. She said emphatically – “Go find our lawyer. He is wearing a red shirt. He is an ‘Angel’…. our ‘Angel’.” She further informed Pete that their “Angel” told her she could get out anywhere from 4 – 12 hours. And, that this was a holiday and that the usual time to get out would be next Monday. But, he assured her he was pushing every friend he had (and he had many) to get bail.
In their jail-cell meeting, Rosemary told Pete that the Lawyer said the route to go was to get Bail and get out of there and go home. He told her that the Judge would not rule on the petition of “not guilty” (which would mean she could go free without any bail)….until late Friday because it was a holiday and if that was missed….she would have to stay in jail until Monday. The lawyer had told her that they get the experts to report that upon investigation of the car, verify she was not guilty. Then ask for a low bail. Then, get the money and get out of there.
With the plan now known, Pete knew what he had to do— follow the Lawyer like his shadow as he twisted arms and pulled in favors. That is exactly what Pete did the rest of the day.
Rita next went in and was allowed to spend almost an hour talking with Rosemary. Rita was allowed to sing the song — Las Mananitas, in Spanish, which is the Happy Birthday song. It just happened to also be the secretary’s Birthday. (This is probably the reason she was allowed to stay an hour.)
The lawyer talked the inspector into going to see the car and write the report…. Immediately.
The Inspector and the Lawyer came back from seeing the car. The lawyer gave Pete a thumbs up. Now he had to get the bureaucrats to write the report. Different arms to twist. Luckily, the typist was the in- house birthday girl.
Pete and the Lawyer kept calling their Insurance Agent to straighten out the Insurance snafu. If it could not be straightened out, Pete would have to come up with what the bail was going to be.
In the meantime, Miles was calling, Eduardo was calling, and the Governor was calling. The lawyer was on three phones at once.
Pete’s cell was running out of juice.
Then Rosemary’s family started finding out. She got calls from sisters, daughters, sons, grandkids, and friends. Then her cell phone started to go dry.
Then the biggest surprise of all was our cleaning lady, her daughter Marari , her daughter Bernice who they are God-Parents to…… and all their brothers, sisters, husbands and wives….. all drove out to see Rosemary….. all the way from Primo Tapia… ten of them. Mirari is the daughter of Rosemary’s cleaning lady but much more; they are like a second family. Rosemary and her friends have known Marari since she was a little girl, her father works as a security guard at the Club Marena development for over 17 years.
Unfortunately, they were not allowed to see Rosemary, but they called her to let her know they were here.
The report was finally written and the Lawyer hand carried it to the Judge to get a bail number. He came back and said it would cost 10,000 pesos. He asked: “Can you come up with that?”
Meanwhile more nefarious people were being brought into the jail which Rosemary occupied. This concerned Pete. Getting that money was critical. It was all that was standing in the way of her freedom.
The lawyer and Pete worked on several angles at once.
(1) They could drive over to US and get money out of their bank. Two problems with this were that money had to be in pesos, and they had all left their Sentri’s back in the condos. They couldn’t get pesos locally because all the banks and Cambios were closed until Monday.
(2) Miles was working on wire transferring pesos.
They had the US dollars, just not the pesos.
While the Lawyer was frantically working on the Miles approach…. And everyone was sweating bullets…..up jumped another Angel. Very meekly from the gang that came to see Rosemary, everyone saw a hand rise and heard: “I have 10,000 pesos with me.” It was Marari. She stated that she had to pay a bill next Monday, but that we could use it. Everyone was flabbergasted.
The Lawyer took the money, went inside to the clerk, and gave her the money. And out of the jail room into the main office came Rosemary. The tears were flowing as she saw everyone, especially her adopted family.
She could not come out into the waiting room yet. She had to answer questions and sign the release being typed very fast…. of course…. by the Birthday employee.
On the other side of the window Bernice was leaning against the glass watching Rosemary trying to hide the tears. It was a scene to remember for a lifetime.
Then out she came. She was free. Hugs all around. Pete waited last, but finally got his hug from his wife.
Now it was time to go get the car in Las Playas Tijuana.
David and Rita went home. As did Marari and her family.
The Lawyer drove Pete and Rosemary over to the station in Las Playas Tijuana. They went up to the counter and discovered that the car impound lot was closed for the holidays.
The Lawyer drove Pete and Rosemary all the way home to their Club Marena condo.
9:30am, Friday, Sept 17
The lawyer had told Pete and Rosemary to go confront their Insurance Agent. They drove to down town Rosarito, parked in front of their Agents office, went in ready to do battle.
Rosemary asked for the owner. They said he was not there. She then said: “I think it would be in his best interest if you got him here…now”.
With that, out popped from the back room the man running the office. He knew all about the whole incident…. He said it was his mistake…. He was the person that told the police the Morris’s had no insurance. He was very sorry and assured us every expense would be taken care of.
It seems the problem was in reading dates. In the US we write month, day, year. In Mexico, they write the day first. So when he looked up the renewal payment, it appeared not to be in effect.
He then volunteered to go with Pete and Rosemary to pay for and obtain their vehicle. When he arrive at the station to get the papers to take to the impound lot, there was a sign posted saying cars were not available until Monday.
He offered to take us to lunch which we declined. We agreed to meet with him the following Monday get the car.
10:00am, Monday, Sept 20
Pete and Rosemary were near the end now. They could see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Still…. Mexico was not ready to give up so easily.
Their agent drove them to the lot with the release to get the car out. However, it turned out that someone typed in the wrong release number.
He then went back to Las Playas Tijuana Police Dept. to have the correct number typed in. He came back to the lot. The girl there says there is still a wrong number on the release.
So back to Playas Tijuana he goes. He came and now declares that they need Rosemary there to sign. He must go back with her to witness the other correct number inserted.
The comedy of errors (and six trips) ends when they get back to the lot and the car is released. By this time they are all laughing at the whole thing…. and Mexico.
Or….. are they?