TORONTO – All Justine Davis wants is to come home to Toronto so she can bury her three-year-old son.
She has been stuck for six weeks in a Cuban hospital following a horrific traffic mishap which killed her son, Cameron, just outside the Cayo Largo resort they were staying at over the Christmas holidays.
A source confirmed Tuesday that Cuban authorities are conducting an investigation into the crash involving Davis’s gas-powered rental scooter and a truck.
However, Davis complained that while authorities have not laid any charges, they forbid her to leave Cuba to attend her son’s funeral on Saturday.
She’s hoping the Canadian government will intervene on her behalf.
“They won’t let me go,” Davis, who’s in her 20s, said in a telephone interview from her hospital room at Clinica Cira Garcia in Havana.
“I just don’t know what more they want from me. As for the immigration release — nobody can tell me anything … They’re deciding whether they want to charge me or release me. I’ve prepared a eulogy for him and it’s going to be really psychologically damaging to miss his funeral.”
She told how the crash took place Dec. 23 on a two-lane road that was partially paved. Davis said she rented a Jeep to take her child sight-seeing, but upon returning it early, the owner of the CubaCar rental company suggested she use up excess time by riding a scooter.
She said there was no additional paperwork to fill out and she and Cameron were given helmets. A spokesman who identified himself as Nelson at CubaCar confirmed to the Toronto Sun it is legal for children to ride on such scooters, provided they wear helmets.
Davis claims Cuban police said she attempted to avoid potholes in the road, right before hitting the truck, which she disagrees with. Davis said she and her son were thrown about nine metres and the child’s helmet came off.
Davis, who was still conscious, crawled to Cameron’s body before they were separated by paramedics.
The little boy died at the scene, but it wasn’t until the next day that Davis was informed about her son’s death.
“He was very happy,” Davis, her voice quivering, said of her son. “He went to a daycare. He really liked gymnastics and going to the park. He really liked to dance and perform on stage. He was just happy.”
Despite repeated phone calls to police stations in Cayo Largo and nearby jurisdictions Tuesday, the Toronto Sun was unable to find anyone to speak on behalf of Cuban authorities.
One officer who answered the phone indicated media needed to contact the local tourism board and then changed his mind to say, “only the detective who is working on the case can give out information.”
When reached, the Havana police department would not put the Sun in contact with Lt.-Col. Rogeleo, the lead investigator in this case. Davis said she requested a copy of the police report, but was told it would take up to three months.
The Canadian Embassy in Cuba referred media to Foreign Affairs Canada, which said government officials are trying to push for the case to be expedited.
“Our thoughts are with the family of the Canadian Citizen who passed away in Cuba,” Foreign Affairs spokesman John Babcock said in an e-mailed statement.
“Canadian consular officials in Havana, Cuba, are providing consular assistance to the family and are in contact with local authorities on the matter.”
A source said Davis is under investigation to determine if she played a role in the crash.
Davis said she doesn’t believe she has done anything wrong.
“They’ve had all the information they’ve had for a long time … How much longer do I need to wait?” she said.
According to the Foreign Affairs Canada website, 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,” the website read. “Regardless of the nature of the accident, it can take five months to a year for a case to go to trial. In most cases, the driver will not be allowed to leave Cuba until the trial has taken place.”
Cameron’s father, Michael Sifontes, 31, said while frustrated by the lack of information coming out of Cuba, he’s not surprised.
“People need to know not to drive in Cuba,” he said. “They have a false sense of security because we bring so much tourism, that we’re protected there. We’ve heard stories of people getting into fender benders and Cubans hold on to them. They’re really holding on to her because they don’t want to be accountable for what happened. They don’t want their tourism to be affected.”
Davis brought Cameron to the resort because she wanted some family time after her father passed away in November. During the six weeks in hospital, Davis said she underwent five surgeries for broken bones, contusions and a large gash on her left thigh.
Hospital staff will release Davis in the next week or so, but she will have to find a place to live in Cuba while waiting for permission to leave.
The toddler’s body was released Jan. 14 from Cuba and arrived back to Canada on Jan. 18, but only after Davis said she paid $9,500 for embalming and transportation services. Davis said the funeral had to happen this week because embalming standards in Cuba were subpar compared to those in Canada.
A director at Ward Funeral Home at 2035 Weston Rd. confirmed the boy’s funeral is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
In the meantime, family and friends are donating to a foundation set up in aid of Cameron, which will help offset costs of the boy’s funeral.
Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann said this is “by no means” a typical situation.
“The Canadian government has been criticized for being particularly unhelpful to Canadians in distress,” he said. “The Canadian Embassy should be pounding on the prosecutor’s office and saying, ‘Either charge this woman or let her get to her kid’s funeral.’ You can’t keep her waiting. It’s inhumane.”