The best way to understand what happened, whether as a lawyer, investigator or reporter, is to to go the scene. That is exactly what we did over the weekend. We went to California and Mexico and retraced the steps (the drive) of Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi.
Sgt Tahmooressi, who did two tours in Afghanistan, had recently moved to California. One of the reasons was to get help at the VA hospital.
On the day of March 31, he drove to the border near Tijuana, parked his car (which is what everyone does to avoid the traffic at the checkpoint) and walked across the walkway into Tijuana.
Sometime later — after about 10pm when it was dark — he returned to his car to return to where he was staying in San Diego. He exited the parking lot and when he exited the lot — Mexico was on his right, and San Diego was on his left.
This is where it gets confusing and where I understand the Sargeant’s confusion. Even though San Diego was to his left, the left ramp took him directly into Mexico. This is because the ramp exits to the left but loops around.
I thought when I first saw the ramp that it led to San Diego (north) since it is on the left and not the right (which is where I would expect the ramp to be to take me further south… a few hundred yards…into Mexico.)
It is true there were 3 signs indicating Mexico — but the signs do not have lights and it was dark (and one had graffiti on it which could add to confusion.) I suspect, but do not know, that Sgt. Tahmooressi might have had a drink or two in Tijuana — but totally a guess — and that might have contributed to him missing the signs.
Adding to the problem is that IF you make the mistake of turning left and thinking you are headed back to San Diego (north) but really heading to Mexico (south), there is no u turn to correct yourself before you drive the hundred yards or so into Mexico. It puts you in an impossible position. You get steered directly in a lane with cement barriers preventing you doing anything but driving into Mexico.
Once in Mexico, and at the the Mexico checkpoint / border, Sgt. Tahmooressi says he reported to the Mexican Border Patrol that he had guns in his car. He also placed a 9-1-1 call to USA that we have played on ON THE RECORD at 7pm. He was placed under arrest and has been jailed since March 31 – first at a very dangerous prison in Mexico and now at a less dangerous one but a maximum security facility.
Sign #1 just as you exit the lot and if you are looking at traffic as you exit, you will not notice this sign. It comes up too quickly on you.
Sign #2 (arrow points left to Mexico but that is because the ramp loops around to the right)
See the graffiti below on the sign that says USA.
More distant pic — you can see the 2nd and 3rd sign — but note that Sgt. Tahmooressi has spent the day in Tijuana and was not seeking to drive back into Mexico but to return to where he was staying in San Diego. Mid pic below you can see the ramp to the left (see the sign) and if you exit this ramp…you loop around below right into Mexico.
Pic taken from the exit from the parking lot where he had parked his vehicle.
Pic of us doing a walk and talk and I am pointing towards the ramp that exits left but then loops around to the right and right into Mexico a hundred yards later.
This pic below shows the confusion. As you look at this pic, Mexico is to your right, San Diego is to your left. BUT, the ramp to your left goes to Mexico, not to San Diego. If you make this mistake, you end up in Mexico with no turn offs before you reach the border (about 100 yards beyond.)
Below is the sign right on the ramp. Graffiti covers the “NO USA RETURN” but even if there were no graffiti, once you are at this point, you are on the ramp and can’t back up. You are headed to Mexico — 100 yards away — and there are no options.
After you take the exit ramp to the left, you end up down below in the far right lane. You can see that the cement barriers directs you with no options.
We put a camera – go pro – on the car window so that it could video the course.
Below is the parking lot where Sgt. Tahmooressi parked. He pulled out of the lot, when it was dark, crossing a lane of busy traffic likely turning left …and then almost immediately turned left again on to the ramp thinking he was headed north to San Diego (San Diego was to his left) but instead looping around to the right and headed 100 yards into Mexico and to the Mexico checkpoint.