Gringo austriaco bautizado in Texas

Ein Freund aus Chile hat mich mit dem von ihm entwickelten Plakat aufgeheitert, als ich in Refugio auf die Rückgabe meines Passes und meiner anderen Habseligkeiten gewartet habe. Hier die englische Version meines Berichtes, der an die Staatsanwaltschaft in Houston, die Botschaften in Wien und Washington adressiert wurden.


My name is Helmut Hostnig.  I am an Austrian citizen who retired from teaching and work as a free lance journalist for educational media.  I came to the United States for the first time in September 2010, to visit a friend who lives in Lubbock, Texas.  My intention was to see my friend for a few days and then journey through Texas, documenting my travels for my blog and for educational media purposes.  I rented a car at Alamo Rental Center in Lubbock, which I was to have the use of through September 30, packed my bags, took my camera, recorder, and other items and set out to do my journal.

I spent two days in Corpus Christi, Texas, where I met some people who suggested I should include Louisiana in my travels, specifically, Lafayette and New Orleans.  I was enroute to Lafayette on Highway 77, a four-lane highway, when I passed through Refugio, Texas.  Just outside the city limits of Refugio, I noticed that the car behind me was a Texas Department of Public Safety vehicle.  The DPS followed me for a few miles with no indication that there was a problem.  There was a car in front of me that slowed to 55 miles an hour in spite of the fact that the speed limit was 70 miles an hour.  When he slowed down, I did, too.  The DPS turned on their flashing lights; however, I had not committed any infraction of the law and so I continued driving.  I assumed that if I had done something wrong, the DPS would have pulled up beside me and waved me over, as is the custom in Austria and the rest of Europe.  After continuing on for several miles, another DPS car arrived, pulled up beside me and waved at me to pull over, which I did, immediately.  I did not know why I was being stopped.  I have since been told that Highway 77 is the major drug delivery corridor from Mexico to Houston, Texas, and that the police probably thought, when we both slowed down, that I and the car in front of me were traveling together on a drug delivery.

I pulled to the side of the highway, and DPS officer, David Poland, ordered me out of the car, shoved me down onto the concrete, handcuffed my hands behind my back, and kept shouting at me to “Shut up.’’  The other DPS car went after the car that was in front of me, pulled him over, and handcuffed him.  I tried to explain to Officer Poland that I was an Austrian tourist/journalist, but he continued to shout at me and tell me to shut up.  He placed me in the patrol car, sitting on my hands, handcuffed very tightly and left me there for an hour while waiting for the tow truck to arrive.  It is extremely hot in Texas in September and I was very uncomfortable.  He searched through my bags in the back seat of the car, found my camera and my recorder, refused to let me speak, and said I was going to jail, anyway. He asked me who was in the other car, but I did not know the man.

The tow service, Milton’s Body Shop, arrived and towed away the rental car with all of my belongings left unsecured in the car, including my travel notes, camera, recorder, medications, and clothing.  I was taken to the Refugio County Jail, and left to stand for nearly 2 days, being fingerprinted, photographed, placed in striped clothing and was then booked into the jail under the wrong name.  The jailers took my name, address and other information from my passport, and used the name of my place of birth, Österreich (Austria), as my last name.  This created a great deal of confusion and delay in attempting to get released.  I believe they have corrected this error.  The other man who was arrested was also at the jail.  He was a pharmacist from Corpus Christi and was very upset because he had done nothing wrong.  At the jail I signed papers, but do not know what they were, and was taken before a judge who set bond.  I did not understand what I was charged with, and the judge was very impatient and uncaring, but the bailiff told me I was charged with felony evading arrest and the bond was $5000.00. I did not know what “bail bond” meant.

I was placed in a cell with another inmate, who told me that if I would lend him $300 to make his bail he would call my friend in Lubbock, as soon as he got out of jail.  He also said he would repay the money.  The cellmate’s name was Manuel and I authorized the jailers to release the $300 to him.  He bonded out and I never heard from him, again.  I was not allowed to use my cell phone and all my telephone numbers were in the car.  I could not use the jail phones because I did not know anyone and it would have been a long distance call to my friend in Lubbock. The names of three bail bond agencies were on the wall at the jail, but none of the numbers worked.

For four days, my family and friends did not know where I was.  More seriously, I was denied my heart medication, which was in the car with my things.  I have a defect in my heart and the medication is necessary.  Finally, a jailer explained to me what was meant by the term “bail bond” and she let me call a bail bondsman.  Initially, the bondsman, Steve Parker, wanted me to authorize him to take my Visa card and give him my pin code so he could withdraw cash.  Having already been cheated by one person, I refused to do so.

Twenty-four hours later, I agreed and the bondsman said he was securing $3500 on my Visa card.  He said it was $10 000 for the bond and there were still $6500 to pay. He would get me a lawyer.  He did not get me a lawyer. He did put $3500 on my Visa, which he said was non-refundable and he placed a hold for $6500 on my Visa card, which made the card unusable for the remainder of my trip.  I did not know it was customary to post only 10 to 25 per cent of the bond to assure my appearance.  The bondsman said I had to give him my passport to assure that I would not flee.  He took my passport and drove me to the Best Western Hotel on the outskirts of Refugio and left me there without a car and no contact person.  I realize that I am from a foreign country and the bond is posted to assure I will not flee, but this bondsman was unscrupulous in his dealings with me.

The service that towed my car, Milton’s, would not release the rental car to me.  All of my belongings were in the car as well as my medication.  After three days of making many phone calls and trying to contact people, the Austrian Consul, Gerald Seidl, finally persuaded the service to release my medication.  They would not release the car or any of my other belongings to me.  I had no clean clothing or toiletries except those given to me by the manager at Best Western Hotel.   Mr. Seidl then assisted me in finding a lawyer, Tony Canales, in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Mr. Canales sent Jo Ellen Hewins, one of his associates and Oiram Salinas, a paralegal, to assist me.  We contacted the assistant district attorney, Ray Hardy, and he agreed to drop the felony accusations and said he would send it to the County Attorney who would file it as a Class C misdemeanor, i.e., following another car too closely, a mere traffic ticket.  He would not agree to drop the matter entirely, but we met with the County Attorney and he said he would handle it.  We requested that the District Attorney prepare a letter to the effect that there would be no felony charges and send that letter to the bondsman so that he would release the excessive bond he had put on my card.

We then drove to the bail bondsman’s office, but he was not in the Refugio office.  He was in Rockport, Texas, so we drove to Rockport, located his office and requested return of my passport and return of a portion of the bond money he had incurred on my Visa card.   He would not give up the passport until he received the letter from Ray Hardy and agreed only to reduce the bond to $2500.00 and he paid the other $1000.00 to my attorneys.  He had no right to my passport, but used it as leverage.  He finally released it when he received the fax from Mr. Hardy.

We made several phone calls to Milton’s tow service, but even with the reduction to a misdemeanor they would not return the car to me.  We were informed that Alamo Rental was going to pick up the car and have it towed to the Alamo rental center in Corpus Christi.  We contacted the Alamo affiliate located there, which is Enterprise Rental, but they did not have the car.  By this time we located the car in Aransas Pass, Texas, it was late in the day.  The Lubbock Alamo rental agency would not release the car to me, and cancelled my rental agreement.  The rental car company located in Aransas Pass agreed to rent me the car on another contract, which would cost me additional fees.  I agreed to do this and tried to use my Visa card to secure the rental agreement.  The card was declined because of the large charges placed on it by the bail bondsman and the other expenses I had incurred during my detention and after my release.  The rental agency would not accept cash.  My other credit card was issued by a local Austrian bank and was declined acceptance since there was no American counterpart to that bank.  I was able to retrieve my belongings from the car and we told the agency we would be back the next day to get the car.

We drove back to Corpus Christi and I contacted my bank to transfer money to my Visa, so I could pick up my car the next day and return to Lubbock.  I was able to get a room at a small hotel where I had stayed when I was in Corpus Christi, the Summer Place.  The next morning we drove to Aransas Pass to get the car, and, again, my Visa card was declined.  Apparently the funds had not transferred, yet.  At this point I was desperate and feeling extremely discouraged.  I decided to forget about taking the car and I caught a Greyhound bus out of Corpus Christi bound for Lubbock.

This trip to Texas was one I had looked forward to since my childhood.  I have travelled the world and nowhere but Texas have I been treated so shabbily and the disappointment hurts.  I was followed by police for no reason, thrown to the ground, handcuffed, incarcerated and threatened with a felony indictment.  I was cheated by the bail bondsman, denied my medication, lied to by people at the jail who stole my money, billed for rental car charges I did not incur.

There were some people who were nice and seemed to care about me:  the Austrian consul, Gerard Seidl, the nice woman at the Best Western Hotel in Refugio, and Seth Tsaufosais at the Summer Place.   My lawyer and her paralegal spent three days making telephone calls and driving around South Texas, trying to help solve my problems. For those people I am grateful and I hope they will come to visit me in Austria, as I doubt I will ever return to Texas.

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