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.
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.
Chris Carroll covers federal politics for the Times Free Press. A Chattanooga native, he went to Red Bank High School and graduated with honors from East Tennessee State University. Chris investigated violent crime, municipal government and hospitals before taking the political beat. For tornado coverage, he and Pam Sohn won a first-place Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors deadline reporting award. In 2010, Chris won the Golden Press Card Award of Merit and another deadline reporting ...