Memorial service for Tia Poklemba
Poklemba family seeks help
Tears, hope and memories
In the four years after her daughter was left to die in the middle of a San Carlos Park road, Debbie Poklemba noticed herself slowly changing.
She became shy and quiet. She didn’t go out like she used to. She thought frequently about the last time she saw Tia at the funeral home — it didn’t look like her daughter at all.
“It changed us tremendously,” Debbie Poklemba said Friday.
After Tia Poklemba was run over by a car and found badly injured on Aug. 8, 2008, investigators honed in on Luis Gonzalez, a man who surveillance video showed had left a bar with her earlier that night. But shortly afterward, he fled to Mexico, abandoning his pregnant girlfriend and family.
On Thursday, a team of U.S. marshals found Gonzalez, now 26, in El Pedernal, Mexico, after receiving a tip from a viewer who had seen him featured on a March episode of “America’s Most Wanted.”
“We were successful in locating him, in taking him into custody to a dirt floor in a Mexican jail where he belongs, and where he will stay until we can bring him back to face American justice,” Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott said at a news conference.
Lead detective Mike Carr said he always “knew this day would come.”
“I won’t be satisfied until the judge renders a sentence,” he said. “That’s when the job will be done.”
Some time after Tia Poklemba left a San Carlos Park tiki bar that morning in 2008, a pair of newspaper carriers found her bloodied and bruised on a remote dead-end street around 2:30 a.m. With her last words, Tia Poklemba told the men who found her that she had been “with friends.”
Evidence at the scene showed Poklemba had been run over twice — once in drive, once in reverse — and left for dead, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
After Poklemba’s tissue and blood were found beneath the suspect’s car, deputies charged Gonzalez with leaving the scene of a fatal accident. Gonzalez was later charged with manslaughter — an extraditable offense.
Scott said authorities knew Gonzalez was somewhere in Mexico, but the trail went cold until “America’s Most Wanted” featured the case in 2010. The episode aired three times, each of which gave the Sheriff’s Office a “plethora” of tips, Scott said.
The tip that came in March was the most precise, he said, and led authorities directly to Gonzalez in El Pedernal.
“Teamwork doesn’t get any better than this,” said Cindy Smith, producer for “America’s Most Wanted.” “It just shows that media, law enforcement and victims’ advocates can all work together.”
Debbie Poklemba said her family cried and laughed upon hearing the news. Family members began posting news of the arrest on Facebook Thursday night.
“It kind of felt like somebody lifted something off me,” she said. “I don’t know how to put it.”
When she sees photos of Gonzalez, she said she thinks of Tia sitting alone in the middle of the road.
“She was alive, and I wasn’t there to be with her,” Poklemba said. “What he did to her — I don’t know how somebody could live with themselves. And run away and play. It’s horrible.”
When Gonzalez returns to the American justice system, Poklemba said she will find the words to say to him. Somehow.
“It’s just very unfair that he got to live his life, when my sister didn’t,” said Tia’s sister, Tera Oben.
Gonzalez remains in Mexico awaiting extradition, Scott said. Upon return to the U.S., he faces charges of leaving the scene of a fatal crash and manslaughter with a weapon, both first-degree felonies.