MIAMI — Enrique Reyes' immigrant tale is familiar: He grew up in a tight-knit family in Cuba with dreams of one day helping his parents. He traveled to Miami from Texas, working in a pipe factory, making friends and dating.
Yet his journey veered abruptly on Aug. 5, 2006, when Reyes, driving after a night of drinking, slammed into another car, killing one of his best friends and leaving himself paralyzed.
Today, Reyes, 30, is in a permanent holding pattern, stuck in a Broward County jail though he has served his sentence for vehicular homicide. He is unable to leave for one reason: No one will take the paralyzed immigrant.
"They are agreeing to hold him for violation of probation, but he hasn't violated probation," said his public defender, Jose Reyes, no relation. "That is the fiction we are holding him under. He can get out tonight if a halfway house is willing to take care of a paraplegic. He is only being held there because there is no place to go."
So while he remains locked up, the public pays the tab, raising questions about whether jail cells should be used as little more than a safety net for those unable to find a permanent home.
Reyes was charged with vehicular homicide, possession of cocaine and operating a vehicle without a valid license. He pleaded no contest. In February, Broward Circuit Judge Marc Gold granted a downward departure and sentenced him to five years of probation.
In explaining his decision, court records show, Gold said Reyes didn't have any significant criminal history, showed remorse for killing his friend and was paralyzed. The victim's family didn't oppose the light sentence.
Gold ordered that Reyes be transferred to Broward General Medical Center. But within days, the hospital filed a court motion arguing that Reyes did not require acute care and, therefore, wasn't the hospital's responsibility. Reyes landed back in jail March 10.