Canadian teen Cody LeCompte is ready to leave Cuba after being detained since April 29 after a car accident.
Canadian tourists should think twice before getting behind the wheel during trips in Mexico, China, Guatemala and Cuba, the Foreign Affairs Department warns.
“Canadians involved in traffic accidents may face serious legal problems, including imprisonment,” the departmentwebsite says.
The caution comes as 19-year-old Cody LeCompte prepares to leave Cuba after being detained since April 29. He is expected to return Tuesday to a welcoming party planned by family and friends.
LeCompte, of Norfolk County, was detained by Cuban authorities after the rental car he was driving collided with a truck on a pockmarked road near rural Camaguey, sending himself, his mother, uncle and a female Cuban friend to hospital.
LeCompte was never charged in the crash, but was forced to stay at the Gran Club Santa Lucia in Cuba until the investigation was completed. The family must now deal with a crushing debt of $30,000 that it spent on lawyers, flights and hotel rooms.
“It doesn’t feel real,” LeCompte said from his hotel room in Cuba. “I can’t believe I’ve been here for three months for a car accident.”
Similar sad fates could await tourists bold enough to rent vehicles in Mexico, China and Guatemala. Foreign affairs warns Canadians involved in traffic accidents shouldn’t expect to be treated like they are innocent until proven guilty.
“They could be taken into custody until responsibility for the accident is determined and until all penalties are paid,” the website warns. “If you do not have Mexican liability insurance, you could be prevented from leaving the country until all parties agree that adequate financial satisfaction has been received.”
LeCompte’s treatment may have surprised his family, but it is not uncommon. According to foreign affairs, 108 Canadians have been arrested or detained in Cuba since 2005; about 10 per cent of the cases are “vehicle-related.”
Currently, about 10 Canadians, including LeCompte, are being held there. Last year, almost a million Canadians visited Cuba.
“Traffic accidents are a frequent cause of arrest and detention of Canadians in Cuba,” the website notes. “Accidents resulting in death or injury are treated as crimes, and the onus is on the driver to prove innocence.”
Canadians also shouldn’t feel protected by insurance policies they take out during their Cuban vacation.
“If the traveller is in any way at fault in an accident, rental agencies will nullify coverage and seek damages to cover the cost of repairs,” the website notes. “Contract agreements do not cover occasional drivers, and the signatory is responsible for all people driving the vehicle. Rental agencies are government-controlled and can prevent your departure from the country unless payment is obtained.”
LeCompte’s mother, Danette, said Canadian officials will now help them deal with their insurance policies, but adds they should have helped resolve the ordeal much sooner.
“We needed their help from the beginning, not just this past week,” Danette LeCompte said.
In some countries like Brazil, Canadians are warned about the drivers, if not the laws.
“In Rio de Janeiro and in São Paulo, it is common to let motorists treat red lights as stop signs between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. to protect against holdups at intersections,” the website continues.
Meanwhile, the LeComptes are excited for the big party when they return Tuesday. Another family member was also exiled during this tribulation: their big black Labrador retriever, Raven. She may even greet the family at the airport.
LeCompte’s mother is sure of one thing: “We will never come back to Cuba.” Unless, of course, LeCompte is finally charged.