Saturday, March 14, 2009

Paralyzed Broward inmate gets OK to return to Cuba


A paralyzed Broward jail inmate who has remained incarcerated despite finishing his sentence will be granted his freedom, a judge ruled Tuesday -- along with the right to return home to Cuba.

Broward Circuit Judge Marc Gold gave permission to transfer Enrique Reyes from jail to Miami International Airport so he can fly home. He'll leave the jail in Pompano Beach on Feb. 8, thanks to a relative who is purchasing an airplane ticket for him to rejoin his parents in his native Cuba.

Reyes' public defender, Jose Reyes, jail administrators and the Broward Sheriff's Office have tried for about a year to find a way for Reyes to leave the jail after completion of his sentence for vehicular homicide.

Reyes smiled and gave the thumbs-up sign as he was pushed into the courtroom in a wheelchair Tuesday morning to hear the official words from Gold that he would soon be free to go.

''Mr. Reyes, I don't know if it's the right term: mission accomplished,'' Gold told Reyes on Tuesday morning.

On Aug. 5, 2006, Reyes got behind the wheel of a car after drinking and slammed into another vehicle in Deerfield Beach, killing his friend and leaving himself paralyzed.

Reyes pleaded no contest to the vehicular homicide charge and Gold sentenced him to five years' probation in February. Gold granted the probation because Reyes didn't have a significant criminal history, showed remorse, was paralyzed and the victim's family did not oppose the sentence.

Gold ordered Reyes be sent to Broward General Medical Center, but the hospital argued he was not its responsibility, so he quickly landed back in jail -- despite the fact he was technically free.

The issue: No one wants a poor, homeless, undocumented migrant in a wheelchair. The case highlighted the fact that the jail -- under court orders to avoid overcrowding -- is the dumping ground of last resort. It costs about $115 a day to care for Reyes at the jail, where he has now stayed nearly a year despite no sentence that includes incarceration.

''Unfortunately, the Broward County Jail is sometimes the default provider,'' Sheriff Al Lamberti said. ``We are probably the largest social service provider in the county.''

The Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., gave the go-ahead about a week ago for Reyes to return to Cuba, said his public defender. The Cuban government has made arrangements so that Reyes' family can move from the second floor to the first floor -- a necessity for Reyes because he needs the wheelchair to get around.

Reyes is relieved to start a new chapter in his life.

''He is very happy to be going back to his family,'' attorney Reyes said.

Lamberti said several different agencies worked together to find a resolution.

''It's not a happy ending, but it's a good ending,'' the sheriff said.

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