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USF student hurt in Cuba crash could be in Florida this week

A medical transport company has offered to fly a University of South Florida student hospitalized in Cuba back to the state for free, Rep. David Jolly said Tuesday.

Barbara Jimenez, 22, could be back in Florida as early as this week.

"This is hopefully going to be a very good week," Jolly said. "We are hopeful that this concludes on behalf of the family."

Jimenez was seriously injured this month in a car wreck that killed her cabdriver and injured her boyfriend and two relatives near Havana. She does not have health insurance and her parents couldn't afford a medically supported flight to Florida, a service that they said could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

But after reading of Jimenez's story in Sunday's Tampa Bay Times, Jolly contacted her sister, Caridad Jimenez of Tampa.

"I'm beyond thrilled," she said. "I'm just overwhelmed with all the support, all the love everyone has shown us. It's been amazing."

On Aug. 3, Jimenez traveled to Cuba with her boyfriend, John Fox, to visit her family. An aunt and cousin met them at the Havana airport. They hired a taxi cab, a 1952 Chevrolet, to take them to San Jose, a town about 40 minutes from the capital.

During the car trip, a truck slammed into the Chevrolet. The taxi driver died at the scene, while Jimenez, Fox and her two relatives were taken to local hospitals with serious injuries, according to Cuban news outlets.

Jimenez was in a coma for about five days, her sister said. She regained consciousness and can breathe on her own, but suffered a head injury and struggles to speak.

Fox, a 23-year-old engineer from Melbourne, was flown to Jackson Memorial Hospital days after the wreck. But Jimenez's family could not afford to fly her to Florida for treatment. Her parents, Daisy Falcon and Jorge Jimenez of Immokalee, traveled to Cuba to be with her.

A medical transport company, whom Jolly declined to name Tuesday, heard of Jimenez's situation and contacted his office to say they would fly her to Florida for free. Jolly said another person, whom he also declined to identify, has offered to pay for any outstanding costs in Cuba.

"They're still working out a few kinks," Caridad said. "We've been very optimistic. … Things are starting to work in our favor."

The company has been cleared to travel into Havana, she added, but they still need to have a doctor approve Jimenez for travel, as well as decide which Florida hospital will treat her.

Reps. Kathy Castor and Mario Diaz-Balart have contacted officials in Cuba to inform them of Jimenez's situation, Caridad said. A Castor spokeswoman confirmed she has been in close contact with the family. The Beta Gamma Chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, in which Jimenez participates, has also created a GoFundMe page that has raised more than $15,000 as of Tuesday.

Jimenez lives in Tampa and was scheduled to graduate from the University of South Florida with a bachelor's degree in philosophy this fall.

An aspiring litigation lawyer, she loves reading about politics, completed a legal internship earlier this year and also has interned at Castor's Tampa office. Jimenez has been studying for the LSAT and wants to attend Florida State University's law school.

Times staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com. Follow @lauracmorel.

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