By Stephanie Sanchez / El Paso Times
Article Launched: 08/11/2008 12:00:00 AM MDT
EL PASO -- Casey Garcia, the 1-year-old girl being treated at Thomason Hospital after being injured Saturday in the latest violence in Juárez, was unconscious in a bed Sunday fighting for her life while a controversy unfolded around her.
She is in critical condition, and her father, Todd Turner, has not left her side in two days, even after hospital social workers told him he would have to schedule payment plans for the cost of his daughter's treatment.
Casey's mother, Leticia Garcia, was desperately waiting at the family's home in Juárez because she was not granted permission to cross the U.S.-Mexico border to be with her daughter.
The only form of communication about her daughter's health is through a telephone walkie-talkie.
"I want to be over there. ... Please, let me be with my daughter. I want to be with her, please," Garcia said from Juárez in a telephone interview. "I feel very bad. I'm desperate."
Turner, 40, Garcia's common-law husband of four years, was left with the responsibility of taking care of their daughter.
"It's heart-wrenching. I've never cried so much in my life," Turner said as he stood at the door of Casey's intensive-care unit room. "I mean, you replay the picture in your head of what happened and you can't possibly imagine that anybody could live through that."
Turner, who is a truck driver, said he was pushing his daughter Casey in a stroller about a block and half from his Juárez home on his way to a friend's house in the Alta Vista
Colonia around 2 p.m. Saturday. As he, his friends and his 4-year-old nephew stood with the stroller in front of them, a pickup pulled up.
Within seconds, Turner said, another car pulled up in front of the pickup and fired a gunshot, killing the driver of the pickup.
Turner said his first instinct when he heard the gunfire was to get his nephew to safety. When he returned for his daughter, he says that the slain driver of the pickup had slumped over with his foot evidently resting on the gas pedal.
The truck accelerated, hit the stroller and pinned both it and Casey against a wall.
"I got him (his nephew) out of the way. If he wasn't in the way, I could have got my daughter out of there," Turner said.
Casey suffered several skull fractures, he said.
"It's going to be a week before we know if she's going to make it or not. ... The fact that her skull is so fractured kind of helped out because of the swelling. Her brain had room (to swell). She has a little bit of bleeding inside her brain, which was a concern. But a CAT scan showed the blood was the same. It didn't get any worse. Therefore, it's not a concern right now."
Early Sunday, Turner said a hospital social worker told him that his family would have to pay for her treatment at Thomason because she isn't a U.S. citizen. He said he repeatedly told the social worker his daughter was American and was waiting for her citizenship papers.
Under the Child Citizenship Act, children who are younger than 18 and have at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen, whether by birth or naturalization, acquire automatic citizenship. Children who live abroad acquire citizenship on approval of an application and the taking of the oath of allegiance, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site.
Turner said he was born and raised in Seattle, but has lived in Juárez for four years because of his wife is not a U.S. citizen and has not been naturalized.
"She (Casey) is in Juárez because her sisters, brothers and mother can't cross. She's still an American citizen and she's still a baby, for crying out loud," he said.
Since violence blamed on warring drug cartels began in Juárez, 27 people, including Casey, have been treated at Thomason Hospital. Most of the victims are citizens of Mexico and have included police officers. Hospital officials have said that treatment and security has cost the hospital about $1 million. Hospital officials have asked for the federal government to step in and help.
County Commissioner Veronica Escobar, who has been vocal on the issue of Juárez violence victims being treated at Thomason, said she was not aware of the child's situation but that she would look into the matter.
"I don't know what citizenship has to do with the payment," Escobar said. "I can tell you that Thomason has very established fair policy with regard to payment."
She said one victim of violence, the first one taken to Thomason, has paid in full, but the rest have not.
More than 700 people have been killed in Juárez so far this year. Many of the mob-style killings are believed to be linked to a war between the Sinaloa drug cartel and Juárez drug cartel, known as La Linea.
The presence of more than 2,000 Mexican soldiers and federal police has not slowed the homicides.
Stephanie Sanchez may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6137.