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After 16 Years On Life Support, John Doe In Coronado ID’d

Brad Racino

An unidentified man, known only as 66 Garage, is shown at the Villa Coronado Skilled Nursing Facility where he lives, Feb. 5, 2015.

Aired 2/1/16 on KPBS Midday Edition.

After 16 Years On Life Support, John Doe In Coronado ID'd

GUESTS:

Leo Castaneda, reporter, inewsource

Enrique Morones, founder, Border Angels

Transcript

A man previously known only as 66 Garage has finally been identified after living for 16 years in a minimally conscious state.

The Mexican Consulate in San Diego said Friday the man, who has been living in a Coronado nursing facility, had been reunited with his family. His name has not been released at the request of relatives.

He arrived at the Villa Coronado Skilled Nursing Facility in the late 1990s after he was injured when a van he was traveling in crashed east of San Diego. Some people familiar with the situation believe he might have been attempting to cross illegally into the U.S. from Mexico. After the accident, officials assigned him the name "66 Garage."

It’s unclear what will happen to him now. In 2014, government officials told inewsource state law allows for California to keep paying for the long-term care of people here illegally.

The man was identified by an eclectic alliance of activist groups, Mexican and U.S. government officials, and staff from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. They were brought together by Enrique Morones, founder of the advocacy organization Border Angels, after inewsource first reported on Garage’s condition last February.

Morones told inewsource that he traveled to Washington to talk to Michael Fisher, head of the U.S. Border Patrol at the time, as well as to Mexico City to talk to government officials there.

“The help of Mike Fisher in Washington, D.C., was crucial,” Morones said.

Since those first stories, more than a dozen families have come forward, hoping that the man in long-term care was their lost brother or son. They asked about identifying birthmarks, or sent old photos to compare with the young man at Villa Coronado.

Eventually, a Border Patrol forensic team used biometric measurements, such as fingerprints and facial scans, to track down a potential relative, and DNA samples were sent for testing.

On Friday, the consulate called Morones. He said they told him, “We know who it is, and it’s the person that we suspected it was."

“I was so overjoyed and I thought this is fantastic," Morones said. "My whole purpose was just to get the family to see their relative — son, brother, whatever the case may be — (and) know he’s alive.”

inewsource first profiled Garage as part of “An Impossible Choice,” an investigation into special life support units — like Villa Coronado — throughout California. That investigation found more than 4,000 people living in those facilities, including eight whose identity was unknown.

Care for Garage and other individuals in similar situations costs Medi-Cal, California’s health insurance program for the poor and disabled, about $700 a day.

Garage, estimated to be in his 30s, is on a ventilator and cannot speak or respond to his environment.

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