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Handling of Mexico Crash Is Criticized

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The father of a man involved in a fatal car crash in Baja California over the weekend criticized Mexican authorities Monday for holding two injured passengers on high bail amounts before releasing them.

“There is no way to protect yourself except not to be there,” said Kevin Lewand, a Tustin lawyer whose son was seriously injured in the crash early Saturday morning near Rosarito Beach. The single-car rollover crash killed the driver and injured another passenger.

“Mexico is a beautiful place, but unless they can bring their police and prosecutors under control, Americans will have no protection,” Lewand said.

Lewand and others also criticized a Mexican legal system that, they say, puts the lives of tourists at risk by emphasizing the demand for bail above the need for medical care after an accident.

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Mexican law requires foreigners to post bond before they can leave the country if they are under investigation in a traffic accident that is considered potentially criminal.

In late August, the family of a north San Diego County man involved in a two-car collision had to pay $7,000 before Mexican authorities would allow his family to take him to a U.S. hospital, where he died Sept. 6. The incident angered politicians, one of whom threatened to put up signs warning tourists about going to Mexico.

In the latest accident, Keith Takabayashi, 31, of Santa Ana apparently fell asleep at the wheel of a friend’s Jeep Cherokee and rolled it about 12:30 a.m. Saturday near Rosarito Beach, killing himself and injuring his two passengers.

Authorities refused to release one passenger, critically injured Kevin Lewand Jr., 30, of San Francisco, for nearly a full day until his parents arrived with $11,000 for bail. The other passenger, Barry Walshe, 31, of Newport Beach, was hospitalized and then put in jail for six hours before being released Monday morning.

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‘It Was Very Frustrating’

“It was very frustrating,” a battered and bruised Walshe, still wearing pants bloodied in the accident, said at a press conference Monday afternoon in San Diego.

“I was screaming to be left in the hospital, but they said I wasn’t hurt bad enough,” he said. “So I was taken to jail, with a cement floor, open toilet and flies.”

The American consulate tried to help, he said, but could do little. “I was in a lot of pain,” he said. “My leg had swollen up like a melon.”

Walshe, a commercial real estate broker, was finally released without posting bail. He said he wasn’t trying to make a point, he just didn’t have the money.

About 8 a.m. Monday, an ambulance took him to Scripps-Mercy Hospital in San Diego, where he was treated for ruptured ligaments in his right leg and assorted cuts and bruises.

Lewand’s father said his son has a broken pelvis, cracked ribs, a bruised lung, massive contusions and a skinned head. The younger Lewand, a marine biologist at a San Francisco aquarium, underwent surgery at Scripps-Mercy on Sunday and again Monday. He was reported in guarded condition.

The elder Lewand insisted that Mexican authorities “need to clean up their abusive process.”

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Takabayashi’s father, however, was not so critical. The three friends went to Mexico at their own risk, said Glenn Takabayashi of Santa Ana.

“We didn’t condone these trips,” Takabayashi said. “When you go to a foreign country, you have to play by their rules--my children included.”

All three young men have been friends since attending Foothill High School together in Tustin. They and another friend, Ted L. Sawyer Jr. of Newport Beach, went to the Lewands’ house near Rosarito Beach for a weekend get-together, something they’ve done many times over the years.

After a night out in Rosarito Beach, the three decided to return to the Lewand house in Sawyer’s car while Sawyer remained in town. Takabayashi is believed to have dozed off, his father said, while driving home. He said that, according to reports he received, his son was tired but had taken the keys because “he wasn’t planning to do much drinking.”

“I understand he had just had a few drinks, but he had been working for almost 24 hours the night before,” Takabayashi said. The victim was head of safety and quality assurance at Todd’s Enterprises, an Irvine food supply company.

When the accident occurred, Walshe said he and Lewand were asleep in the car. He said only he had a seat belt on; the other two were thrown from the vehicle.

No Blood-Alcohol Tests Done, Report Says

A report released Monday by the Baja California attorney general’s office said Lewand and Walshe were detained after the accident so police could determine who was driving.

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Lewand, who was unconscious, was first taken to the Red Cross hospital in Rosarito, where Dr. Norma G. Arellano Becerril told homicide investigators that he smelled of alcohol, the police report said. The report also said that police did not conduct tests to determine the blood-alcohol levels of the two men.

Although Walshe told police Takabayashi was driving the vehicle, the report said investigators were unable to determine who the driver was.

The younger Takabayashi, born in Hawaii, was a rugby player who attended the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated from UCLA, where he was an economics major.

“He was a very spirited, intense person. When he wanted to do something, he would go after it with full gusto,” the grieving father said. “He was very caring. . . . He was pretty special.”

He said his son was close to launching his own business, a Web site about education that would give high school students information about colleges.

The crash refocused attention on the dangers that Americans face when they venture across the border, an issue that flared Aug. 24 when Donald Kraft, 44, an unemployed truck driver from Valley Center, collided with the vehicle of a Baja California human rights official, Antonio Garcia Sanchez.

Kraft’s family alleged that Garcia demanded a bribe before he would permit Kraft to be airlifted to a San Diego hospital. Garcia denied the allegations. Kraft’s family had to pay $7,000 in fines and medical transport costs before he could be brought to the hospital. Kraft, who was left paralyzed by the crash, died of pneumonia Sept. 6.

After that incident, San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn called for billboards to be posted on U.S. roads leading to Mexico, warning Americans that they leave the U.S. at their own risk. Horn said he still is pursuing the effort.

“Our goal is to change the protocol they have in Baja, so that medical procedures would come first,” Horn said. “We know that the first hour of medical treatment is critical, and Kevin Lewand sat [in Mexico] for 20 hours before he was transferred.”

Times staff writer H.G. Reza contributed to this report.


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