- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 2, 2001

The Alexandria Police Department is investigating why it took 30 days to notify the family of a man left in a coma after his car crashed into a tree June 25.
A department spokesman said police are "sorry" for the family of Francisco Javier Lizama and said the city would drop the $1,000 in storage fees on his Nissan sedan that had grown each day Mr. Lizama lay unconscious.
But the man's family was turned away by employees of the impound lot on Eishenhower Avenue when they appeared Thursday with a rented tow truck.
Workers at the lot told them they never got orders to give any car back for free.
Alexandria's efforts to express sorrow over the injuries suffered by Mr. Lizama — including the waiving of the storage fee — have either backfired or been diluted by delays.
On June 25, Mr. Lizama apparently lost control of his car on King Street, and it hit a tree around 10 p.m. He suffered severe head injuries and was airlifted to the Washington Hospital Center.
Alexandria officers impounded Mr. Lizama's car and wallet and made one attempt to reach his next of kin, but gave up when a telephone operator told them no phone number matched the address on the 28-year-old's driver's license. Mr. Lizama's sister and other relatives had no idea what became of him.
Having put up fliers, spoken with police and called hospitals for weeks hoping to locate him, when relatives finally learned he had been in a coma the whole time, they immediately wanted to know why police had not made more of an effort to find them.
Police last week told The Washington Times they followed "standard procedures" in their handling of the accident. They also said "nowhere does it require, unless there's a life-threatening injury or fatality, that police contact next of kin."
Now the department is reviewing its policy for notifying relatives of injured accident victims.
The city does not "feel guilty" about what happened, but "it's serious enough to us that we are following up with a complete and comprehensive investigation," said Lt. John Crawford. "The scope of this investigation will go outside of the police department and look into all of the agencies involved in this particular case."
"It's still too early to draw conclusions or make recommendations as to how the policy might change," Lt. Crawford told The Times.
Meanwhile, Mr. Lizama, who stayed at Washington Hospital Center through Aug. 28, is now confined to a bed in the Woodbridge home of his sister, Rosa Molina. During his stay at the hospital, he ran up a bill of more than $208,000, which is still unpaid.
Mrs. Molina said she is taking care of her brother because he has no health insurance.
"We're doing the best we can, but he's still the same — we're hoping one of these morning he'll wake up and start talking to us," Mrs. Molina said.
Alexandria police spoke with her Aug. 27, a day after The Times first reported the Lizama story, expressing condolences to the family.
"Our sympathy goes out to the family for this tragedy," Lt. Crawford said. He added the department decided to waive the $1,000 impound "because there was just no way under the circumstances that this person could have gotten his car out of impound on his own. It's not because we felt guilty in any way."
"I think that they feel guilty," Rosa Molina said Thursday, still angry over being turned away at the city-owned impound lot. "They want to be nice so I'll stop making noise."
"I paid the tow truck driver $75 for nothing. I don't know what's wrong with these people," Mrs. Molina said.
Alexandria police said yesterday that the impound lot is controlled by a separate arm of city government, the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, and there could have been a delay before the right people got the police orders.
"We're sorry about what happened with the impound fee on Thursday and we're going to make arrangements today to get this taken care of," police spokeswoman Amy Bertsch said yesterday. "We'll contact the family and have the tow company we use take the car to where they want it." At 4 p.m. yesterday the car was being towed to Mrs. Molina's home in Woodbridge, free of charge.
Vernon Gutjahr, a Falls Church lawyer hired by the family said his clients were still researching what legal action to file.
"What is cut and dry," Mr. Gutjahr said, "is that [the police] just dumped this guy after the accident and totally wiped their hands of the whole thing."


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