Tourists flock from around the world to catch a glimpse of beautiful Samoa.
But for one tourist couple from Spain, Ivan and Maria Ruiz, their time here will always be remembered for a very sad experience.
As the pair were returning from a lovely evening spent at tourist hotspot, To Sua Trench, they were involved in an accident with an Electric Power Corporation (E.P.C) vehicle.
Now accidents happen. They accept that.
But what started out as another car accident soon turned into a nightmare which resulted in the overnight imprisonment of the Spanish man.
According to Mr. Ruiz, he was driving on the left lane of the road at a moderate speed before he was confronted by what he claimed to be a speeding E.P.C vehicle. But that was only the beginning of their troubles.
At the Lalomanu Police Station, Mr. Ruiz said he was immediately victimized when he was asked to sign an official accident report claiming him as the guilty party. He wouldn’t.
“I tried to avoid the collision and I turned the steering wheel and ended up on the right (lane). The police said I was dangerous because I was driving on the right, which is not correct. This is why I did not want to sign,” he explained.
“The police said that I was recklessly driving, which is not true. What I did is I steered the wheel to the right to avoid a collision. I didn’t invade the opposite lane to drive on the right, I was steering fast to avoid a collision."
“Had I steered to the left, I would have gotten a full frontal collision, so I decided to steer to the right.”
The accident happened at around 5pm.
“We stayed there until 11. The whole time they were trying to get me to settle and sign and agree that I was reckless and dangerously driving. I told them I’m not signing it. They told me I should pay for the repairs and I said, “no let me talk to the lawyers.” Mr. Ruiz was later transferred to the Apia Police station.
Afraid, distressed and concerned, especially since they are not acquainted with the laws of Samoa, Mr. Ruiz said he still does not understand why he was held overnight.
“This is something that I don’t get here. If the E.P.C pressed charges against us, I don’t know why they put me into custody overnight.
“I don’t know about common law so I’m not sure what is the procedure. This is strange for me, I don’t quite understand. "
“Maybe, and this is my feeling, that the police in Lalomanu said I was driving dangerously. This is an offence. I guess this is the reason."
“Since I was not signing the declaration that I was guilty and it was not my fault he said, “Okay I’ll take you to Apia and they’ll solve the problem.” But this is just my feeling.”
While Mr. Ruiz was in custody, his wife Maria Ruiz, got in contact with the Honorary Spanish Consulate, Fepulea’i Patrick Fepulea’i. A lawyer by profession, Fepulea’i also provided them with legal advice.
“In the morning, I paid them $3,300 and they withdrew the charges.”
According to Mr. Ruiz, he was told he had two options. To continue to protest his innocence and fight the charges of pay up and leave.
“As soon as I paid the money they got me out of the police station and that was it.”
For Mr. and Mrs. Ruiz, they said they worked out it was better to pay the money.
“The thing is that the Police wanted me to stay until Tuesday but we are flying today to Fiji, then Auckland and then Chile. So I said ‘okay fine this is the best way to solve the situation I pay the tala and that was it."
“I still say that it was not my fault. They were invading my part of the lane because they were going at high speed into the curb, so they just appeared in front of me and what I did was steer to the right to avoid a frontal collision.”
Mr. Ruiz said his treatment at the Apia Police Station was humane and they were much better to deal with then the police in Lalomanu.
“The people at the Apia police station were quite nice. The normal police were checking in every one hour or so and saying, “How Are you feeling?” And I said, no, I’m fine. They allowed me out to see my wife because she was nervous most of the time. I was getting support from them.”
Mr. Ruiz added that if he were a resident and this accident occurred he would have pursued legal action against E.P.C.
“I would’ve said listen, you didn’t have insurance and you guys were driving on the left side. There is no way you can tell me this is right.
“This is not the way. You can say the other stuff but none of us have the assurance that the other party is right and no witnesses, just the driver, the other guy sitting on the truck and my wife and me.”
The couple has now put the incident behind them.
Asked if this incident has skewed their view of Samoa, he said: “The view of Samoa is fine. I finished a traditional tattoo last night.
“I went with Peter Suluape and he’s a magnificent guy. And all the people I met here are fantastic. The only problem I see is that in rural areas not areas not close to the city, they do what they want."
“This not only happens in Samoa but everywhere in the world. I don’t blame Samoan people, it is the attitude of people that are in the middle of nowhere and think the area that they are managing is theirs."
“The rest of the Samoan people we dealt with were fantastic.”