LIMA — Angela Garcia learned just how a really bad day can get worse for driving without insurance.
Late in the evening on Dec. 11, Garcia had a minor house fire at her home in the 800 block of Linden Street. The fire department arrived. Her power and gas were cut off. The American Red Cross was called and lined up a motel on Lima’s east side.
Garcia called a friend to take her to the motel. She sat in the house, 8 months pregnant and with her three children, waiting for a ride that never showed.
Firefighters were already gone and her cellphone was destroyed in the fire. The house was getting cold and her children, 11 and under, were struggling.
She knew she was in a desperate situation. Garcia, who lost her driver license for driving without insurance, decided to risk driving without a license. She felt she had no choice.
She loaded her three children in the car and decided to try to find a police officer or a phone she could use.
Garcia was stopped by Officer Steven Torres in front of Meat City. She immediately told the officer she did not have insurance or a driver license but explained she just had a house fire.
Torres told her she could leave the car in the parking lot at Meat City and he made arrangements for her to catch a cab to the motel. Torres told her to get the car the next morning and it would not be impounded.
The rest of the story gets a little complicated depending on who is telling it.
Garcia is upset she received a ticket for driving with a suspended license. She said she should have been afforded a break given her emergency and dire circumstances involving little children.
Lima Police Department Maj. Chip Protsman said Torres spotted Garcia driving near Eureka and Pine streets. He said she was acting suspicious and pulled into the gas station on the corner of Pine and Kibby streets.
The officer became more suspicious and believed the driver was trying to evade him because it’s common people without a license stop places in hopes police officers will continue on, Protsman said.
Protsman said if Garcia needed an officer she could have signaled Torres over to her car.
But Garcia said she never saw the officer. Had she, she said she would have made contact with the officer to get the help she desperately needed.
She said she could barely see out of her car windows because the thermostat is broken and she has no heat to defrost the windows.
Garcia drove toward Meat City after leaving the gas station in hopes of finding a phone or an officer there, she said.
Torres followed and ran Garcia’s plates. He discovered the plate was invalid and the woman in the car matched the description of the car’s owner, Garcia, who had a suspended license. Torres had enough to make a stop, Protsman said.
Torres pulled Garcia over in front of Meat City, which is where the story begins to match between the officer and Garcia. But Garcia said the officer could have done more to help her.
Garcia said the officer told her to remain in her car. Protsman said he wanted her out of the elements. Garcia said her car was an icebox.
While Garcia said the officer made arrangements for a cab and she eventually made it to a motel, she said she returned a few hours later to get her car from Meat City’s parking lot and it was gone. She found out it was impounded, even though the officer said it would not be.
Protsman said Torres is a rookie and made a mistake by telling her the car could remain in the parking lot. Because Garcia drove without insurance, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles required her plates and registration seized. Cars, by law, cannot sit on streets or in a private parking lot without plates, Protsman said.
But Torres, after realizing his mistake, tried to make arrangements for Garcia and the car. He even drove to her motel but could not make contact with her. He left a message.
Protsman said Garcia’s circumstances that night were unfortunate but said she just can’t be driving without insurance. If she were to hit someone and not be able to pay for the damages the other person would be inconvenienced or worse, he said.
Garcia said she had no choice that night but to drive. She said she lives in a bad neighborhood, has been in town about a year and doesn’t know many people.
“I felt I was doing what was in the best interest of my children for their care at the time. I would do the same thing again. I didn’t have any other option,” she said.