A two-week vacation to Cuba has turned into an indefinite hold-up for an Ontario man on the island.
A two-week vacation to Cuba has left an Ontario man stuck indefinitely in legal limbo on the island.
Cody LeCompte, of Norfolk County, has been held in Cuba for seven weeks since April 29 when the rental car he was driving was involved in a serious accident that sent him, his mother, uncle and a female Cuban friend to hospital.
Even though he has not been charged for his role in the accident, the 19-year-old is prohibited from leaving the country until the case is resolved. He is now staying in a Santa Lucia resort with his uncle.
On Friday, a grand jury in Camaguey, 500 km from Havana, heard LeCompte’s case but has yet to decide if he should face a fine or trial. A trial would mean an indefinite stay in the country.
“We’ve been sitting on pins and needles. We thought we’d have heard from them by now,” said his anxious mother, Danette LeCompte, who suffered internal bruising, broken ribs and cuts in the accident, and had to return home in late May to report to work.
LeCompte said she and her son, who’s never had a traffic offence since getting his licence at 16, arrived in Cuba April 26 on a trip that was supposed to be a graduation present for him.
The four rented a Hyundai Accent sedan for a week and were on their way to Camaguey for a day trip when their car was hit broadside by a large dump truck.
“The road conditions were horrific. There were potholes everywhere,” recalled LeCompte, a provincial civil servant. “There’s no intersection, no stop sign, no traffic light. Animals were all over the place. We slowed down at all intersections, then came the big dump truck that didn‘t brake.
“We got hit on the passengers’ side and swung around at least twice. Our car just looked like a heap of metal. My son was in and out of consciousness. I thought I’d lost him.”
Some passers-by took the victims in their own cars to the nearby Neuvitas Hospital. Police took their statements and arrested the dump truck driver.
LeCompte said they were initially told by Cuban officials that her son had to remain in Cuba until his injured Cuban passenger recovered, so doctors could “sign off” her medical file to ensure she would be okay.
Although the woman, his uncle’s fiancée, has already recuperated, Cuban officials continue to keep her son in Cuba.
LeCompte said the family has since sought help from the Canadian embassy, consulate staff and foreign affairs.
“They just take your report and say they are kept updated on the file. Other than that, they tell you Cuban law has to be obeyed,” said a frustrated LeCompte, who talks to her son daily. “None of these agencies have even had contact with me and to let me know anything. Cody tries to put up a brave face, but he is frightened.”
Through a friend, the family got in touch with Conservative MP Dave Van Kesteren (Chatham-Kent-Essex), who is following up the case with foreign affairs officials, LeCompte said.
Foreign affairs officials would not comment on LeCompte’s case, but a travel advisory on Wednesday warned Canadians avoid driving in Cuba.
“Driving conditions can be hazardous. Signs are scare. Bicycles, pedestrians and horse-drawn carts use the middle of the road and do not readily give way to oncoming vehicles,” it said. “Traffic accidents are a frequent cause of arrest and detention of Canadians in Cuba. Accidents resulting in death or injury are treated as crimes, and the onus is on the driver to prove innocence.”
Regardless of the nature of the accident, it can take five months to a year for a case to go to go to trial while the driver is banned from leaving the country.
“If all they want is money, we will pay them,” said LeCompte, who wasn’t aware of the travel warning. “I just want my son home.”