By Muhammad Atef | June 11, 2021

A Utah family is drowning in medical bills after a fatal crash involving a parole fugitive

COLLATERAL CONSEQUENCES

A parole fugitive who allegedly killed a 17-year-old boy is still on the run as the teen’s family not only grieves for their loved one but struggles to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills.

Utah Adult Probation and Parole was responsible for supervising Llobani Figueroa — a high-level drug trafficker linked to an international criminal syndicate — after he was paroled in October 2017. They lost track of him just two months later.

He isn’t the only one. A recent 2News investigation revealed, on average, AP&P lost track of more than 300 parolees every month since last July. On May 3, the day this investigative report initially aired, Dan Blanchard the Director of AP & P sent the following email to his staff”

Hello AP&P!

“There are a few thoughts I want to share with everyone. First, I’m very grateful for the service each of you provide to Utah as members of our law enforcement community and fully support you as we carry out our mission.

“The important work we do in corrections is at times very misunderstood. There are some who use false assumptions to attack our profession. Individuals on probation or parole are responsibility for their actions. We also have responsibilities as agents and employees of the department. When the courts and BOPP grant probation or parole, those offenders are ordered to follow conditions of supervision, including reporting to AP&P. Our responsibility is to supervise according to state statutes, guidelines and standards. We want to see people successfully exit the criminal justice system. We’re also able to request warrants and take other actions when needed. All of these efforts are how we do our part to keep track of those we supervise and promote public safety

“We are open to hearing your concerns and ideas through any part of our leadership team. My mobile number is ***-***-****. With our criminal justice partners, we will continue looking at the issues we face, the strengths of our team to respond and identify recommendations, and how we do our part to make improvements.

“For any who want a little more light reading… here is a link to a CCJJ legislative report from November 2020. We routinely and openly share corrections data with partners in criminal justice — this report highlights trends, challenges and opportunities for Utah.

https://justice.utah.gov/wp-content/uploads/JRI-2020-Annual-Update-for-Legislature-Condensed-Summary-with-Supplemental-Pages-Final.pdf

“Dan Blanchard Division Director

“Adult Probation & Parole Utah Department of Corrections”

After the report aired Blanchard has since repeatedly turned down requests for another interview to discuss the problem with parole fugitives.

SALT LAKE POLICE DETERMINE FIGUEROA WAS BEHIND THE WHEEL

In June of 2020, investigators used fingerprint analysis and other criminal investigative means to confirm Figueroa was behind the wheel of a speeding GMC Sierra truck and ran a red light and slammed into a car carrying 17-year-old Jahir Duenas-Gomez and his 16-year old friend.

“He was driving 90 miles an hour on a 35 mile-per-hour road,” said Lopez and it’s also confirmed in the Salt Lake Police Department report after analysis of the truck’s Airbag Control Module data.

Salt Lake City emergency responders cut Gomez out of the mangled car and rushed him to Intermountain Medical Center.

Police determined Figueroa was driving the truck that hit Gomez when they found fingerprints on a stolen gun out of West Jordan that matched his. Also inside the truck: a rock of black tar heroin that weighed 89 grams, 83 grams of marijuana, pills, several containers of marijuana that were individually packaged, packets of suboxone, a rolled up one-dollar bill with white powder inside, $1,050 in cash and notebooks with handwritten transaction records with Figueroa’s handwriting on it. Not to mention packaging supplies for narcotics, cell phones and sim cards. We tried to obtain crime scene photos of the drugs found but the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office said they were of evidentiary value and did not want to release them because it could comprise the case. Figueroa ran away from the scene of the crash, but witnesses saw him dash back to grab a bag.

“I’m sure it’s because he had enough in that duffle bag to put him away for the rest of his life,” a whistleblower with intimate knowledge of the case told 2News Investigates.

Below is a recording of the Llobani Figueroa parole hearing:

A BROKEN BOY FIGHTS VALIANTLY FOR HIS LIFE

Figueroa disappeared into the night while, at the hospital, a broken boy fought for his life.

“His spleen basically exploded, and it had to be surgically removed,” said Fernando Lopez, Jahir Gomez’s uncle. He had a brain hemorrhage. “His pelvis was broken, he had four broken ribs. He had a collapsed lung, a damaged liver and a traumatic blow to the heart.”

He had a heart attack, slipped into a coma, and was put on life support. His family was told the teen was brain dead.

“You know, the doctors told me that it would be cruel, if his heart stopped again to perform CPR again,” Lopez said through tears.

Eight days later, Gomez’s family faced a gut-wrenching decision.

“I had to make the decision to take him off life support,” Lopez said. Jahir Duenas-Gomez died eight days later on June 29th.

AN AVALANCHE OF GRIEF AND MEDICAL BILLS

His family, while grateful doctors tried valiantly to save Gomez’s life, are saddled with an avalanche of grief and nearly a quarter of a million dollars in medical bills.

“We lost our nephew, and the last thing that we want to worry about is a $200,000 bill — or well over that,” Lopez said. “To lose a family member and then, you know, essentially be told ‘hey, here’s the bill, we tried to do everything we can but, sorry,’ — it’s terrible.”

It’s been almost a year since the crash and, to this day, there’s no sign of Llobani Figueroa, though he has been charged. The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office filed charges for a laundry list of crimes, including manslaughter. But with Figueroa nowhere to be found he won’t face the consequences.

“We’re told that he fled to Mexico,” said Lopez.

NO RESTITUTION FOR THE FAMILY

Victims of crimes can receive restitution form courts as part of a sentence in a criminal case, but only after defendants like Figueroa are prosecuted, found guilty, and ordered to pay. Since Figueroa has not been captured to be prosecuted, Gomez’s family does not qualify.

DA Sim Gill could not speak specifically about this case because his office will prosecute Figueroa if and when he is found. He said victims of crime experience devastating, lifelong emotional scars — and the financial fallout adds insult to injury.

“How do you make them whole again, if there is such a thing? How do you do that?” Investigative reporter Wendy Halloran asked Gill.

“Perfect justice is the complete repairing of that injury — if you lost somebody, to be able to return that person to you,” Gill said. “So we, at the very best, provide an imperfect measure of justice, under the best set of circumstances.”

When criminals abscond or don’t have the ability to pay restitution, the Utah Office for Victims of Crime can provide reparations, up to $50,000. Gill instructed his Victims Support Services division to help Gomez’s family fill out the paperwork.

“That’s why we created that division and that’s what we would do, not only for the victims in this case, but for any victim,” Gill said.

Utah’s reparations are funded through criminal fines and penalties, state general fund appropriations, and a federal reimbursement grant. During the office’s last reporting period, more than 8,000 people qualified to apply for reparations. Just over half were approved to receive money. Only 56 of those cases were victims of homicide.

“I think that was the effort,” Gill said, “to say that you don’t have to wait until the final adjudication when the harm has been done to you, and you can find some relief from that.”

Gomez’s family hopes to tap into that, but it won’t be nearly enough, even if they qualify.

“It’s just not fair,” Lopez said. “By all means, we’re a very humble family.”

INTERMOUNTAIN HEALTHCARE NOT NOTIFIED JAHIR’S DEATH WAS A CRIME

2 News Investigates reached out to Intermountain Healthcare to find out if anything could be done to help this family. When we told Jess Gomez, Associate Director of Media Relations that this was a crime and sent him the Salt Lake City police report and charging document from the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office he immediately took action. He told us that they had no idea this was the result of a criminal act and that no one told them so it was listed as an accident in their database. The very next day Gomez personally went to visit the family with the paperwork they needed to begin the process of trying to get financial help. Gomez issued the following statement:

On June 1, 2020, Jahir Gomez was transported by ambulance to Intermountain Medical Center in Murray in critical condition from the scene of an automobile accident in which his vehicle was struck by another vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed. The driver of that vehicle fled from the scene of the accident.

Jahir was treated in the Shock Trauma ICU for eight days, where caregivers worked around the clock to save his life. Unfortunately, Jahir passed away due to the severity of his injuries.

Until a few days ago, we were not notified that Jahir’s death was part of a criminal investigation. In situations where a crime is committed resulting in a patient being hospitalized, patient advocates help patients apply with local agencies, which may provide financial compensation and reparations for victims of crime.

Intermountain has numerous financial assistance programs to help patients and their families in need, which includes charity care for eligible patients. We are working with Jahir’s family to determine options for support and financial assistance during this difficult time. We have provided information about our charity care program and will be working to determine their eligibility.

Gomez also wrote: “Also, because of you, the Utah Office for Victims of Crime reached out to us today to coordinate on the case. As we were unaware of that this was a crime-related case, this is very helpful. Thanks again for your work!”

UTAH OFFICE FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME REPARATIONS

2 News Investigates also reached out to the Utah Office for Victims of Crime and the response was swift. Director Gary Scheller said they had no knowledge of this case and contacted Jahir’s family Thursday morning.

The Utah Office for Victims of Crime was established by the Utah Legislature in 1986. According to its website their mission is to advocate for the rights and needs of crime victims in Utah by assisting in their restoration through financial compensation and other victim services. Scheller says, “A person victimized in Utah by violent crime, threats, DUI injuries and death who are not involved in criminal activity or misconduct which gives rise to their injury (it is prohibited to consider or suggest these aspects when evaluating applications involving sex crimes) may be eligible for assistance with their crime-related out of pocket expenses such as medical, dental, mental health, loss of wages, funeral and other burial expenses they have incurred as a result of the criminal act.”

Scheller responded in writing to a series of questions we posed about reparations.

Scheller wrote, “The maximum basic amount is $25,000.00. In aggravated cases where there are catastrophic medical expenses, an additional $25,000.00 can be added for medical costs only. Medical providers accepting payment from the reparations program, are required by law to accept that payment as payment in full and cannot collect more from the victim than they could otherwise collect from the program. The requirement that insurances pay first, for victims with insurance, in most cases, leaves only the cost of copayments and deductibles for the reparation program to pay.”

We asked how reparations are funded?

“Historically, reparations were funded through surcharges placed on criminal fines and penalties at both the state and federal levels. No taxpayer funding was used. However, due to historical declines in the revenue collected from those state surcharges, 2019 legislation transferred all of the state programs funded by those surcharges, to state general fund appropriations, including the reparations program. The state funding source for the reparation program is state general fund appropriations, but the program also receives a reimbursement grant from the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) federal grant. That grant reimburses 60% of the state dollars spent each year. Those funds come from the federal criminal surcharge account, which is now also near empty due to the decline in federal surcharges. The Utah Office for Victims works diligently with the Office of the Utah Attorney General, other state, local and federal prosecutors to recover the funds it spends helping victims, from those convicted of harming them. This is still a small portion of revenue and we are attempting to increase it by helping prosecutors, courts and corrections professionals understand that restitution is as important to the successful rehabilitation of convicted offenders, as it is to the victims who incurred expenses as a result of the convicted person’s behavior. Reparation benefits have fluctuated between $5.5 million in state fiscal year 2020, to over $7million in state fiscal year 2017. Restitution amounts collected by UOVC have increased significantly due to our efforts, but are still small fractions of what crimes actually cost. In 2017 the office received approximately a half million in restitution and just under a million last year.”

During the office’s last reporting period, more than 8,000 people qualified to apply for reparations. Just over half were approved to receive money. Fifty six of those cases were victims of homicide.





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