US soldier arrested in Mexico says he accidentally drove across the border with guns

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico – A U.S. soldier being held by Mexican authorities said he accidentally drove across the border with guns, knives and ammunition while looking for a place to park.

Spc. Richard R. Medina Torres said that after a long night of driving, he had wanted to park in El Paso, Texas, and walk across the border to Ciudad Juarez for breakfast Monday, but ended up steering his 1999 Honda Prelude off Interstate 10, over an international bridge and into Mexico.

“It was just an accident, I didn’t mean to drive over here,” a teary-eyed Torres said Tuesday afternoon, standing in a hallway of the Mexican federal building where he has been jailed since Monday morning.

Torres, 25, an Iraq war veteran on his way from Fort Hood, Texas, to his mother’s house in Fresno, Calif., said he ended up at the border after misunderstanding an El Paso gas station attendant’s directions.

“When I saw where I was, I started asking people at the front gate, ‘Where can I turn around at?’” said Torres, who speaks no Spanish.

Mexican authorities said Tuesday that Torres stopped at the border to ask where he could park his car and was directed to make a U-turn to go back to the U.S. When he stopped again to ask federal authorities working nearby where to park, the agents started questioning him.

Torres said that when he was asked if he had drugs or guns, he immediately told Mexican officials he was traveling with an AR-15 assault rifle and a .45-caliber handgun. Both are his personal weapons; he said he intended to leave them and his car at his mother’s house before deploying to Honduras for a year.

After searching his car, Mexican authorities took Torres into custody and began questioning him, he said. He has not been charged with a crime.

It is illegal to bring guns or ammunition and some types of knives into Mexico and weapons offenses can result in lengthy prison sentences. Torres also had 171 rounds of ammunition and three knives.

Roads leading to the border are dotted with clearly marked signs directing drivers to Mexico and warning against bringing guns or ammunition across the border. Torres said he wasn’t paying attention to the signs, instead focusing his attention on looking for a parking lot.

Juarez has been gripped by violence in the last several months as dueling drug cartels have apparently been in a bloody battle for control of the hardscrabble city. In the last several weeks, Mexican federal agents and soldiers have been posted in the city in an attempt to quell the violence.

Torres said he was being treated well. When he wasn’t being questioned or speaking with U.S. consular officials he was being kept in a small, private cell with a bed, shower and toilet.

He said he’s met with a lawyer and hopes to see a judge in the next few days.