A teary-eyed American soldier accused of illegally driving guns and ammunition into Mexico said Tuesday he was just looking for a place to park so he could walk into Mexico for breakfast after a long night of driving.
Instead, Army Spc. Richard R. Medina Torres steered his 1999 Honda Prelude off Interstate 10, over an international bridge, and into Mexico.
“It was just an accident, I didn’t mean to drive over here,” Torres said Tuesday afternoon standing in a hallway of the Mexican federal building where he has been jailed since Monday morning.
Torres, an Iraq war veteran who was heading to his mother’s house in Fresno, Calif., said after driving all night from Fort Hood he planned to park his car at the border and walk into Juarez for breakfast. But he misunderstood directions from an El Paso gas station attendant, took the wrong exit, and wound up in Mexico.
“When I saw where I was, I started asking people at the front gate ‘where can I turn around at?’,” Torres said.
A Mexican border guard told him to make a U-turn several hundred feet past the border, Torres said. But within seconds of leaving the inspection station, Mexican federal authorities stopped his car.
Torres, who doesn’t speak any Spanish, said they started asking if he had drugs or guns. He said he immediately told them he was traveling with an AR-15 assault rifle and a .45-caliber handgun.
After searching his car, Mexican authorities took Torres into custody, and began questioning him, he said. He has not yet been charged with any crime.
It is illegal to bring guns or ammunition and some types of knives into Mexico and weapons offenses can result in lengthy prison sentences. Torres also had 171 rounds of ammunition and three knives.
[pullquote_right]UPDATE ON CASE – SOLDIER RELEASED
Army Spc. Raymond Medina Torres, 25, was released Friday, May 30, 2008 from the Cereso prison in Juárez after Mexican authorities dismissed weapons charges against him.
“He was transferred this Friday to the National Institute of Migration after federal judicial authorities revoked the formal arrest order against him and ordered he be set free immediately,” Cereso spokesman Mauricio Rodriguez said.
“Before he left the facility, he was given a medical exam, and doctors who examined him reported that he was in excellent health.”
Rodriguez said the soldier, a U.S. citizen, was taken to the border to be turned over to U.S. authorities.
The soldier was detained April 21 in Juárez after Mexican customs officers found an AR-15 rifle, a .45 caliber handgun and numerous round of ammunition and knives in his vehicle.
Medina Torres claimed he took a wrong turn and crossed the border into Mexico with the weapons by mistake. He said the weapons were part of his personal collection.
U.S. officials also investigated him and found no indication of arms-trafficking.
He was on his way from Fort Hood, Texas, to visit his mother in California.
Roads leading to the border are dotted with clearly marked signs directing drivers to Mexico. Many of those signs include a picture with a revolver in a red circle with a line through it. Other markers are more direct, warning drivers that it is illegal to carry guns or ammunition into Mexico.
“Penalty-Prison,” a sign posted above a road leading directly to the border says in bold, red letters.
Torres said he wasn’t paying attention to the signs, instead focusing his attention on looking for a parking lot.
“I wasn’t even aware I was driving into Mexico,” until seeing the sign welcoming him to Mexico, Torres said. He was driving to California to drop off his car before deploying to Honduras for a year.
Mexican authorities said Tuesday that Torres stopped at the border to ask where he could park his car and was directed to make a U-turn to go back to the U.S. When he stopped again to ask federal authorities working nearby where to park, the agents started questioning him and were told about his weapons.
Torres said he was being treated well, though when he wasn’t being questioned or speaking with U.S. Consulate officials he was being kept in a small, private cell with a bed, shower and toilet.
He said he’s met with a lawyer and hopes to see a judge in the next few days.
Torres’ mother, Gloria Medina, said she was told about her son’s situation Tuesday morning by his commanding officer at Fort Hood. She spoke to her son about an hour later and now just hopes for his quick release.
“I’m worried … I think about him quite often,” Medina said. “I do have my faith and that’s keeping me strong. I feel that he’s going to come out of this ordeal fine, and I’m hoping that it will be soon.”
Spc. Richard Raymond Medina Torres was charged by Mexican authorities with smuggling (punishable by five to 30 years in prison); weapons importation (punishable by three to 10 years in prison); and possession of ammunition reserved for the military (punishable by two to six years in prison), said Angel Torres, spokesman for the Mexican Attorney General.
Medina Torres was transferred to the Cereso prison around noon Wednesday.
Torres said Medina Torres’ case is now in the hands of a federal judge who has 72 hours to decide whether to free him or sentence him to prison time.
Asked whether the U.S. State Department has planned any diplomatic intervention, an official in Washington, D.C., declined to comment.
However, he said consular officials were available to provide legal references and other information if Medina Torres needed it. They also will follow the case as it moves through the legal process.
Under the federal Mexican judicial system, Medina Torres will not have an oral trial or oral hearings in a courtroom. Instead, attorneys for both sides typically file written statements for a judge to read and make a decision.
Yeah, and Santy Claus wear pink panties on Christmas eve also. The roads leading to the International Bridges are well marked and there are public parking lots around the bridge and very evident.