published Saturday, January 29th, 2011

Hixson woman recounts detention in Belize over Christmas

by Chris Carroll

When Suzan Boutz flew home Tuesday from Belize, she sang "God Bless America" on the plane.

Boutz, 60, a Hixson artist who planned to have a "grand time" walking on the beach, exploring Meso-American ruins and celebrating the holidays in the Central American country, was jailed for 20 hours without food and water after authorities cited her for a Dec. 20 vehicle collision that she says wasn't her fault.

On Jan. 12, in response to a records request, Sgt. Fitzroy Yearwood, the police spokesman for Belize, said he was "doing an in-depth research into this matter, so as to be able to [provide] accurate information."

He never contacted the Chattanooga Times Free Press again and hasn't returned subsequent phone messages and e-mails.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press Suzan Boutz, 60, of Hixson, looks through her file of paperwork concerning charges she received following a motor vehicle accident while on vacation in Belize.

"Some people said, 'Gee, if you just had a crisp $50 bill, it all would have been over,'" Boutz said, speaking from her home.

The wreck happened while she was stopped at an intersection waiting to turn left. Rony Robert Cruz, a motorcyclist, crashed into the front of her rental car.

Her records -- stamped by a Belize justice of the peace -- show several eyewitnesses wrote statements, with one noting that Cruz was "probably drunk, I don't know, but he was zigzagging."

"Coming from the United States, you expect the police to ask questions and look at the situation and see what's going on," Boutz said. "None of that."

Instead, authorities took Boutz to jail.

Although the country's official language is English, Boutz said police had difficulty writing the details of her statement and didn't give her a copy. She and her adult son were told to sit on a bench "as terrible Christmas music played for hours."

She bonded out, hired an attorney and appeared at Dangriga Town Magistrate Court on Dec. 23. Her hearing was postponed until Tuesday of this week, and her passport was taken.

Boutz said U.S. Sen. Bob Corker's staff worked with the U.S. Embassy staff in Belize, but she wasn't impressed with the results.

"All the embassy did was provide a list of attorneys," she said. "Half of them were corporate attorneys, half of them didn't want to help."

Laura Herzog, a spokeswoman for Corker, verified that the office is "in touch with the American Embassy in Belize."

On Tuesday -- after her attorney struck a deal with a magistrate "with dreadlocks down to his waist" -- Boutz regained her passport and left the country.

Records show the charges against Boutz say she "failed to give way when changing direction" and that she "drove motor vehicle without due care and attention." But her attorney negotiated with the magistrate, upgrading the charges to "maiming" in exchange for the passport.

It's unclear how badly Cruz was injured. Police have not responded to questions about him, and Boutz said she saw him "walking around the courthouse" before Tuesday's hearing.

Regardless, Boutz took the next flight home. She doesn't plan to attend her Feb. 22 hearing in Belize, relying on her attorney to work "behind the scenes" to prevent a trip.

"She will be extradited over my dead body," said her husband, Don Boutz.

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belizianese said...

"Coming from the United States, you expect the police to ask questions and look at the situation and see what's going on," Boutz said. "None of that."

Police don't do that in America either Mrs. Boutz. Maybe those police in Belize received their training in America.

January 29, 2011 at 4:38 p.m.
Welcome_2 said...

Welcome to the real world Ms. Boutz. The injustice you suffered on foreign soil many in America suffer on a daily basis right here in America. There's no need to point fingers at Belize or even China for injustices and human rights violations when there are so many taking place right here on American soil. A nation that once prided itself as the beacon of humanity, reason and compassion. Welcome to the same world many of us have to manuever on a regular basis.

January 29, 2011 at 7:41 p.m.
belizetourist said...

Shame on this paper for such blatantly one-sided reportage. A minimum of research would show that Ms. Boutz's own collision sketches indicate she violated a major provision of Belize traffic laws as they relate to the making of left turns. Ms. Boutz was treated by the Belize police pretty much the same as a Belizean in the same situation would have been, and not much different than a foreigner here if involved in a traffic crash with hospitalizing injuries. If a Belizean were involved in the same situation in Chattanooga and fled the country before trial, this paper would refer to them as a fugitive from justice, and that would be correct. Well, Ms. Boutz is a fugitive from justice in Belize and a scofflaw and should be described as such. Ms. Boutz's actions in Belize reflect badly on Americans in that country and will likely lead the local police to be more severe with US tourists involved in traffic crashes in the future, as she lived down to their expectations.

January 30, 2011 at 10:32 a.m.
mthompson332 said...

The article says the TFP tried to talk with the Belizean authorities numerous times without a fruitful response. That isn't one-sided reporting - it's the police suppressing records.

January 30, 2011 at 2 p.m.

How is it suppressing records? Plus, all one has is TFP word they attempted to contact Belizean authorities. American police have been known to go much further than being accused of allegedly suppressing records. I agree with belizetourist in that Boutz is a fugitive running from the law. That's agains the law even in America.

January 30, 2011 at 4:48 p.m.
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