Published on Thursday, June 22, 2006
in the Palm Beach Post
STUART — The boy talked to trooper Michael Olaciregui all the way to the ambulance.
Olaciregui, a 10-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol, had arrived at the scene of a rollover crash on Interstate 95 near Donald Ross Road about 8:20 p.m. Tuesday and found the 6-year-old in a stranger's arms. The trooper asked him for his name, and the boy smiled.
"Jimmy Dejesus," he said. "Or as my mom would say, Jimmy Da-jee-zus."
As rescue workers freed the boy's step-grandmother from her SUV, Jimmy filled the time with stories to Olaciregui about his recent birthday party.
Jimmy and his step-grandmother escaped the crash with minor injuries, and on his way home Olaciregui remembered thinking about how nice it was to chat with the boy and investigate a crash where no one was seriously hurt.
Miles away at the Stuart Police Department, Detective Michael Gerwan was stuck. He had spent most of the afternoon looking for a missing YMCA day camper taken from a local movie theater after Michelle Ward Weston, 51, convinced camp counselors that he was late for a dentist's appointment.
The boy's name: Jimmy Dejesus.
Gerwan searched for the boy and Weston, his step-grandmother, as far north as Port St. Lucie and as far south as Lake Worth. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement twice turned him down when he asked for a statewide Amber Alert because the case was more the result of a dispute between Weston and Jimmy's mother over the boy's care than it was an actual abduction.
Still, Gerwan said he had a feeling Weston might leave the state with Jimmy and never come back.
"Around eight o'clock I really started to worry, because none of my leads were working out and I knew that after 24 hours my chances of finding him would be a lot less," Gerwan said.
While Gerwan worked on more leads, Olaciregui had gone home for the night and cheered the Miami Heat through the end of the second quarter of their NBA Finals win.
At halftime, he flipped through the channels and stopped when he saw a pair of names and pictures flash during a television news report. Police in Stuart were looking for a missing boy taken by his step-grandmother.
The boy's name: Jimmy Dejesus.
"I couldn't believe it," Olaciregui said. "I told my wife, 'Babe, that's the baby I just put in the ambulance with his grandma.' "
Olaciregui immediately thought that Weston, who had minor injuries, would check herself out of the hospital and continue running with Jimmy. He called his supervisor at FHP, threw on some clothes, and sped to Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center.
The trooper arrived at the hospital out of uniform, his shoes mismatched. He found Jimmy Dejesus sleeping on a gurney, bruised but seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was the center of a three-county search.
Gerwan was still thinking, still running out of time late Tuesday night when a phone call broke his concentration. FHP investigators told him they had investigated a crash that may have involved someone he was looking for. The driver, they said, was Michelle Weston, and a boy named Jimmy had been strapped in the front seat of the car when one of its tires blew, causing it to crash and roll off the highway.
The detective called the boy's mother and made plans to rush to the hospital. In the meantime, doctors had finished treating Weston's injuries and were ready to release her. It was possible, Gerwan feared, that Weston could walk out of the hospital a free woman before he got there to arrest her.
"Luckily, she had been driving on a suspended license, so FHP was able to hold her for that," Gerwan said. "I just concentrated on getting Jimmy back with his mother and working on getting (Weston) charged in the morning."
Jimmy was still sleeping when Gerwan arrived and reunited him with his mother in the middle of the night.
Gerwan said Jimmy's mother had kicked Weston out of the family's home in Hobe Sound several weeks ago after they began to argue more and more about the boy. Weston arrived at the Treasure Coast YMCA in Stuart Tuesday afternoon with two of her other grandchildren, Jimmy's cousins, in tow.
YMCA officials said Weston apparently heard two counselors discuss the fact that Jimmy's camp group had gone on a field trip to see the movie Cars at a nearby theater. Weston arrived at the theater and told counselors the made-up story about the dentist's appointment. They allowed her to leave with the boy just before 3 p.m.
YMCA President/CEO John Lass said the organization is conducting an internal probe to determine whether camp counselors acted properly.
Weston, meanwhile, remained at the Palm Beach County Jail awaiting a transfer back to Martin County to face a felony charge of criminal interference of custody, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Olaciregui and Gerwan were running on little sleep Wednesday afternoon, and Olaciregui laughed as he remembered he never did get to see the rest of the basketball game Tuesday. But as the trooper and the detective prepared to head home Wednesday, they both said they were proud they got to help make sure Jimmy made it home safely.
"One thing I learned from this is that it's so important to listen to those alerts and those stories when they're on the news," Olaciregui said. "I never thought I'd be in a situation where I could help with something like that, but here I am."