Stories differ; accusations fly
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the third in a four-part series about Moises Carranza, an illegal Mexican immigrant whose emotional and convoluted tale weaves through Fairplay, Denver, Phoenix and Chicago.
It wasn’t long before sheriffs began asking questions about the Carranzas and the group they had come to America with. Both Abraham Carranza and his wife, Briselda were asked where they had traveled, how they’d arrived in Fairplay, who else had been in the group, and most crucially, if Moises Carranza, who was fighting for his life in a Denver hospital, had been sick before he arrived.
It is here that the contradictions begin.
Jail records indicate that Briselda, through an inmate translator named Clarence Candelaria, informed officials that Moises had been seeing a doctor in Mexico for colon cancer.
Briselda denies this, saying that the translator she spoke with didn’t understand Spanish very well.
In his two separate statements, both of which mention Briselda’s claim that Moises had undergone medical treatment in Mexico, Candelaria also mentions Abraham. In the first, an undated hand-written account, he writes that Abraham said nothing about his brother being sick. In the second, dated March 17, he said that on the first occasion he spoke with Abraham he said his brother had not been ill, but the following day Abraham allegedly stated that his brother had been seeing a doctor in Mexico for health problems.
The Carranzas categorically deny this.
“The documents that the jail is sending are saying that there are declarations that we supposedly made that are not true,” Abraham said. “There is a letter … that says that my wife said that Moises had cancer, that he had undergone chemotherapy. I don’t even know what chemotherapy is.”
“(They are saying) I had problems with my lungs, with colon cancer,” Moises said. “I have never had colon cancer.”
The Carranzas say that officials at the jail persistently asked them leading questions.
“(They kept asking) how much time he’d been sick, as if they wanted to put words in our mouths, or (to say) that he arrived sick already,” Abraham said.
Jail officials tell a different story.
“Had he not been arrested and come here, I think he’d be dead right now,” said Park County Sheriff’s Capt. Monte Gore, the jail administrator. “I think we saved his life. I know we did.
“Mr. Carranza never told us at any time that he had been taking chemotherapy or that he might have a problem with his immune system,” he said. “After he became so ill, that’s when they began talking.”
Gore said he felt the Carranzas were now changing their story and that they had other motivations at this point.
“I think what he wanted was to come to the United States to get his colon cancer fixed, and that’s why he never wanted to tell anybody that he had been taking chemotherapy,” Gore said. “(Maybe he) had run out of funds and maybe came to the U.S. to get arrested and maybe be arrested and have the U.S. taxpayer pay for his colon cancer.”
The Carranzas, again, deny this. They claim Moises, who said he left the army in August 2002, was in perfect health.
“All of this perplexed me,” Moises said. “I don’t know where they got chemotherapy from because, imagine with these problems in the military, they would have kicked me out immediately.”
Instead, the Carranzas point to jail conditions at the time of their arrival as the cause of Moises’ illness.
The Carranzas all claim that numerous people at the jail, in both the segregated male and female sectors, were sick when they arrived and when they left.
“It was there that that virus infected us,” Abraham said. “When we arrived, a young man was even crying (he was so ill).”
Indeed, because they believe officials at the jail were negligent in not providing treatment to Moises sooner, and that he contracted the virus while incarcerated, the Carranza’s have contracted a lawyer, Denver attorney Joseph Archuleta, to look into the case.
“We’re investigating whether or not there has been some negligence on behalf of the government, the INS (now BCIS), the Park County Sheriff’s Department, (and) frankly, the nurse,” Archuleta said. “I think if you detain somebody, if you say to somebody “I’m going to keep you here,’ you have an obligation then to act in a reasonable manner to ensure their safety and ensure that they get proper medical care. That didn’t happen in this case.”
Gore says otherwise.
“I’m extremely proud of my staff, and I think they saved this individual’s life,” he said. “Had he not been arrested by the INS, he probably would have ended up dying in a field or the back of a truck somewhere.”
Gore pointed to the last federal inspection his facility had undergone as evidence of good jail maintenance. In 623 different areas of jail management operation, the Park County jail had been found compliant in all but four, he said.
“I think we run a good jail, and my heart goes out to the family,” he said. “I think this is really tragic, but I think you have to put accountability where it needs to go, and I think that’s on Mr. Carranza.”
Gore also noted that in the days that followed, various other patients were transported to the Summit Medical Center and treated for ailments ranging from a sore throat to bronchitis, but that no other streptococcal infections were diagnosed.
If Carranza had indeed undergone chemotherapy treatment in Mexico, that would almost certainly have led to a weakened immune system and could account for the rapid spread of the disease. However, determining if that is the case may prove almost impossible without Carranza’s medical records, according to various doctors.
It may also be impossible, at this point, to determine if Carranza contracted the streptococcus at the jail or arrived with the disease already in his system.
“There’s just no way to know what the origin of this was, in reality,” Douglas said. “He might have been carrying that for months.”
Dr. Donald Kearns, an infectious disease specialist based in Aurora, said septic streptococcus can affect a wide variety of people an equally wide variety of ways.
“Some people will have the bug and not get anything, and other people can acquire it and it can be invasive very quickly,” he said. “Some people can get nothing, some people can end up with a sore throat (and) some people can end up losing their life or their leg.”
Both Kearns and Douglas said the disease may or may not have been transmitted by someone in Moises’ environment at the jail and said that earlier treatment may have been difficult to provide given the complexity of the disease.
“The early presentations of serious diseases can be very confusing and mild,” Kearns said. “It’s not unusual that people will be seen by a clinician or (primary health care) provider, and they don’t get the proper care.”
Douglas noted that people with sepsis can appear to have symptoms typically associated with the flu, as was noted in the jail nurse’s staff report.
“That can explode very quickly,” he said.
Without a full medical examination upon the Carranzas’ admittance to the jail, it was essentially impossible to definitively determine how Moises contracted the disease, Kearns said.
“The water’s already under the bridge,” he said.
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