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Mexican arrested over Mazatlan assault

January 30, 2012

I made my radio debut reporting this story on CBC (Canada’s equivalent to the BBC). I recorded two minute-long reports that were aired sometime on Thursday morning. Haven’t managed to find the broadcast on any listen again feature but I did speak to another Canadian journalist who heard it so at least someone was listening!  Here’s the latest on the case so far:

A Mexican male being held by Sinaloa police over the assault of a Canadian woman in a Mazatlan hotel has been denied bail after admitting responsibility for the attack.

Jose Ramon Acosta Quintero, 28, was arrested on Friday as prime suspect in the beating that left Sheila Nabb, 37, with almost every bone in her face broken.

Acosta was charged with attempted murder at a court hearing on Monday. He faces up to 14 years in prison if convicted.

Nabb was on vacation with husband Andrew at the five-star Hotel Riu in Mazatlan’s Punta Cerritos when the attack happened last weekend. She was discovered in the early hours of January 20, lying naked in a pool of blood in a hotel elevator.

Nabb’s husband was questioned and then released by police immediately after the incident. Security camera footage from the elevator showed the aggressor was a man in his twenties, later identified as Acosta. He was arrested after being identified through a blood sample.

Presented before the press on Saturday, Acosta admitted to the attack. He said he was drunk and high on cocaine when he encountered Nabb, naked, in the hotel elevator.

He had spent the day drinking heavily with a Canadian friend. After running out of beer, they went to the hotel’s 24-hour bar that provides free drinks to guests. The hotel maintains that access was limited to guests and staff, but Acosta said he simply entered via the beachside entrance where security was lax.

He said he “was very, very drunk,” having consumed 19 alcoholic beverages and a line of cocaine when Nabb entered the elevator he was in. Acosta said they chatted normally but then argued when he tried to stop her leaving the elevator.

The suspect said he put his hand on the door because “I wanted to keep talking to her. She got afraid when I wouldn’t let her out. She started yelling, ‘He won’t let me out.’”

Acosta panicked. “I got afraid also because she’s an American, or she’s a North American and I’m a Mexican and I wasn’t supposed to be in the hotel,” he said. “And she was naked, so I covered her mouth and said ‘Please don’t yell. I’m going to go home.’”

To silence Nabb, Acosta admitted, “I hit her four or five times in the face with my fist, and then I left.” Acosta addressed the media in Spanish and then repeated his story in English.

“I’m so sorry, I apologize and I’m sorry and I hope she recovers because I’ve seen the papers and her face was bad,” he added.

According to the state attorney general, Acosta was investigated in 2008 for rape. There is no evidence that Nabb was sexually assaulted. It is unclear why she entered the elevator naked.

Nabb awoke from a medically induced coma last Tuesday. Doctors initially said she would have to remain in Mexico for three or four weeks but on Friday she was transferred via air ambulance to the Foothills Medical Centre in her home town of Calgary.

The authorities are still trying to track down Acosta’s Canadian friend and his mother. State police say both have fled Mazatlan.

Plus some contextual stuff on safety in Mazatlan from my original article on the case:

The story made headlines worldwide, but online newspaper the Mazatlan Messenger was flooded with comments from local expats concerned that Mazatlan was being unfairly painted as an unsafe destination.

“It really upsets me that the media is trying to blame the mexican people for this incident. I have been to this hotel two times and to Mazatlan several times and have never had any problems,” wrote one person.

“To the media and to all Canadians wanting to travel to Mexico or anywhere else – it’s safe here in Mazatlan. The Mexican people are suffering from all the bad media about the crime. Check out your backyard first before you judge, it really is no different back in Canada,” read another comment.

“People who live here feel it is very different from how it is portrayed in the press. We know the crime rate is lower than in many of our cities,” said Melissa Burridge, editor of the Pacific Pearl newspaper. “I walk the streets at night and I feel safer here than in my home town of Salt Lake City, Utah.”

Burridge believes the American and Canadian press are to blame for “flamboyant headlines” which have “blown the story so far out of proportion.” As a result, “tourism is definitely the lowest its been in three years.”

With visitors discouraged by negative press, the local economy has been hit by severe job losses. Restaurants and taxi drivers are losing customers, while most significantly, major cruise liners have stopped docking in the city’s port.

Citing “recent incidents of violence in the Mazatlan area,” Princess Cruises joined Holland America in pulling Mazatlan from its Pacific Coast itinerary this week. The Disney Cruise Line had already cancelled stop-offs in Mazatlan indefinitely.

These decisions were made in the wake of a series of violent crimes in the area. The Mazatlan Messenger reported on Monday that in January alone, “31 people have been killed in violent incidents, three of which occurred last Thursday.” Yet incidents such as this, in which foreign citizens are killed, tend to blow concern over crime out of proportion.

In response, the Mazatlan Tourism Trust issued a statement describing the city as “one of the safest destinations in Mexico, legendary for its history, culture and the warm hospitality of its people … the areas of concern are not the beach resorts or historical sites that visitors come here to see, but rather the northern border towns far from the city. Reports of visitors being accosted or injured in the destination are extremely rare.”

On Monday, U.S. and Canadian expats describing themselves as “Concerned Foreign Residents of Mazatlan” published an open letter to the Cruise Line Association with the aim of “dispelling certain myths regarding the safety of foreigners in Mazatlan.

“Our concern is that distorted claims that Mazatlan is unsafe, serve to undermine demand, not only among cruise patrons, but tourists overall. The perception, not only affects the businesses that serve these visitors, but denies foreign residents, like us, the pleasure of drop-in visits from many of our friends cruising the Pacific.

“Is there violence in Mazatlan? Of course there is, but no more than the major cities cruise guests hail from or most of the ports of call your members currently serve. In fact, the peace and serenity of Mazatlan are among the many reasons close to eight thousands [sic] North Americans choose to spend a good part of their year here.

“Is the violence in Mazatlan targeted toward tourists? Absolutely not. The U.S. State Department website notes that violence is primarily between criminal organizations and occurs outside of tourist areas.”

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