News Column

Mysterious fall leaves student in coma

August 31, 2014

By Dan Nienaber, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.

Aug. 31--It was closing time on Milwaukee's historic Water Street, and Giovanni Quiroz was in the middle of a fun-filled weekend guided by one of his best college buddies from Minnesota State University.

Quiroz, 24, was enjoying his second night visiting Lucas Torres, a friend who graduated from MSU last year and landed a dream job as a project engineer at Harley Davidson. The two men and two other friends, Tabby Temperly and Megan Olson, planned to spend the weekend touring the city.

The night before, Aug. 14, the group enjoyed the weekly Bike Night event outside the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. The following day, a Friday, was filled with a City Tour cruise on Lake Michigan (something Quiroz had told his cousins he was really looking forward to), a tour of the Lakefront Brewery and a night of hitting the bars along Water Street. The last stop before taking a taxi back to Torres' house was Brothers Bar & Grill.

Bar employees were clearing out the crowded bar around 2 a.m. Saturday and Quiroz's mini vacation was about to take an awful turn. He became separated from his friends and ended up outside the bar alone in a city he knew very little about.

Within a few hours Quiroz was lying in Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital with a traumatic brain injury and a broken hip. His parents, Armando Quiroz and Maria De Los Angeles, received a phone call from the hospital around 9 a.m.Aug. 16. All they were told was that their son was unconscious and they should be there.

"My uncle came up here and told my dad he had to leave because Giovanni had been injured," said Nohemi Quiroz, Giovanni's cousin.

The couple packed and left their home in North Mankato, which they share with Nohemi Quiroz's family, to make the trip to Milwaukee. They haven't been home since, spending every day at Giovanni's side. They talk to him, pray for him and wonder how they're going to get through an emotionally challenging and financially draining ordeal they never expected.

In Mankato, Quiroz's family and friends make nightly trips to Ss. Peter and Paul's Catholic Church to say their own prayers for Giovanni. After more than two weeks in the hospital, Giovanni is recovering but remains in a coma.

His friends and family also have more questions than answers about what happened before a downtown Milwaukee surveillance camera recorded Giovanni Quiroz's fall off a parking ramp.

Outgoing friend

This semester was supposed to be Quiroz's last at MSU.

His plan was to graduate this fall and become a physical therapist. An internship at the Orthopaedic & Fracture Clinic in Mankato was supposed to start last Monday. So he took a break from his summer job with the ACES child care program at Hoover Elementary to visit Torres before the hard work began.

"He's a fun-loving guy who was working hard to get done with school," said John Walfoort, another close friend at MSU. "We spent a lot of time together in the library last year. He was going to be my study buddy this semester and he was going to be a groomsman in my wedding (in June)."

A friend called Walfoort's fiancee, Kayla McFadden, on Aug. 17 to tell her about what had happened to Quiroz. The words she heard, and the news they brought, didn't seem real.

"It was like a bad dream," she said. "He's one of the most warm and loving people you will meet. He's like the ray of sunshine in the room. He's the one who's always making sure everyone is having a good time."

McFadden organized a candlelight vigil Aug. 22 at MSU that drew dozens of family and friends. They are working on setting up a donation fund at a Mankato bank and a fundraising event to help the family with expenses.

Doctors were in the process of taking Quiroz out of a drug-induced coma during their visit about a week ago. McFadden, a nursing student, said Quiroz couldn't communicate with them, but she saw signs she believes are encouraging.

"It was kind of reassuring that his heart rate went up when we were talking to him," she said.

"I'm a firm believer that people can hear you in comas because they sometimes recall things people talk about. There's nothing to prove it, but that's what I believe."

Torres has invited Quiroz's parents and sister to stay with him when they're not at the hospital. He has also started a site at www.caringbridge.com to keep Quiroz's friends and family updated on his recovery.

"His family has been very strong about it," Torres said. "Since they've been here, they've been at Gio's side constantly. They're there all day long and there's always someone there at night."

More MSU friends were planning to visit this weekend. Today is Quiroz's birthday.

What they know

When bouncers started clearing Brothers Bar & Grill at closing time Aug. 16, Quiroz and his friends somehow became separated, Torres said. They thought they would find him outside but didn't. So they stayed outside the bar for about a half hour hoping he would turn up.

When he didn't, Torres and the rest of the group got a cab driver to take them to Torres' house.

"We tried to call him about a hundred times," Torres said. "We didn't find out until later that he didn't have his phone. Gio is a very resourceful person and he makes friends very easily. We figured he would make it back. If he would have had his phone, he would have had my address."

Torres later learned Quiroz had fallen off a parking ramp about two blocks away from Brothers Bar & Grill. Quiroz was found at about 3:30 a.m. by a maintenance worker at the ramp, said Lt. Stanmeyer, Milwaukee Police Department public relations officer. There is surveillance video showing Quiroz likely fell from an upper level of the ramp to a lower level.

There were no signs of foul play, Stanmeyer said. The investigation will not be closed until officers have a chance to interview Quiroz. Stanmeyer also said alcohol was a factor in the incident, but Quiroz's blood-alcohol concentration wasn't available.

Torres said he was told a time stamp on the surveillance video showed Quiroz had been on the ground about 25 minutes before he was found and taken to the hospital. The fall took place just after 3 a.m. and Quiroz was found at about 3:30 a.m.

Deyanira Quiroz, Giovanni's sister, said she and Torres were shown surveillance video from a nearby bar that showed Giovanni walking back and forth in the street alone. She also said police officers let her parents see a portion of the video of Giovanni in the parking ramp. He can be seen running up to higher levels of the ramp, but the video does not show how far, she said.

Missing cellphone

Giovanni Quiroz's missing phone, and what has happened with it since the morning of the fall, raise questions that make the incident worth a more in-depth investigation, his family and friends said.

Just before 3 a.m., about 10 minutes or so before the fall, Torres received a text from the cellphone of someone he didn't know. Quiroz had borrowed another person's phone to contact Torres and tell him he didn't have his own phone. That was the last time Torres heard from Quiroz.

About 20 minutes later, which would have been after the fall took place according to what Torres was told about the surveillance video, Torres received a call from Quiroz's cellphone. The person calling said he had bought the phone and he would return it in exchange for cash, Torres said.

When Torres asked a police officer to track Quiroz's phone so the person who had it could be questioned, he was told it wouldn't be worth the effort. The officer said there would be no way to prove Quiroz didn't sell the phone to someone downtown that night, Torres said.

Walfoort also said he knows that Quiroz had a pass code on his cellphone. So, whoever has it, would have had to use the code to access Torres' number.

Whoever has the cellphone also has been using it to post photographs and videos on Quiroz's Facebook site, Liliana Quiroz said. The postings were taken down a short time after they were put up.

Police also suggested Giovanni might have been trying to kill himself. That is something his family and friends say is not possible. There were no signs that Quiroz was depressed or even feeling down about things, they said. In fact, with his last semester of school and a good internship about to begin, it was the opposite.

"We don't know what happened and we don't know why they have his phone," Liliana Quiroz said. "We just want to find out what really happened. It doesn't seem fair to us that they're trying to close the case because he was drinking or tried to commit suicide because that wasn't the case.

"He's outgoing and happy and knows a lot of people. He's an amazing guy. He's funny and loved by a lot of people and no one understands why that would happen to him."

Marcy Koch, a school counselor at Roosevelt and Kennedy elementary schools in Mankato, has known the Quiroz families since they moved to Mankato many years ago. She was a first-grade teacher at Hoover Elementary School in North Mankato at the time and Giovanni Quiroz's younger sister was a student in her class.

She has maintained contact with the family and watched Giovanni Quiroz grow from an elementary student to a successful college student on the verge of graduation. She described him as "happy, positive, optimistic, enthusiastic." Koch attended the vigil at MSU and said the people she talked to there had similar descriptions for Quiroz.

"I've never seen him be aggressive and no one else has either," she said. "That's why I think there's questions about what happened."

Torres and Walfoort both said it's possible the Quiroz's fall was accidental, adding that he might have climbed or jumped over a wall without realizing there was a drop on the other side. There is no way he intentionally jumped, they said.

Family support

Koch also is concerned about Quiroz's parents. Neither speaks English very well and they have no family or friends living in or near Milwaukee.

Armando Quiroz works at Johnson Outdoors and Maria De Los Angeles works at Ameripride. Both are concerned they are going to lose their jobs if their son doesn't become well enough for them to return to Mankato soon.

"They're isolated and I'm feeling concerned for the family because of the isolation they are feeling," Koch said. "There are so many more barriers there for them. They are some of the most hard-working people I've ever known, but they simply don't have the economic status that's going to support everything they are facing."

Koch is hoping to help the family by working with MSU to have Quiroz's tuition, which had already been paid for this semester, returned. The family could use any other help that's available from the community, she said.

She also said it's important for Quiroz's parents, family and friends to be with him as much as possible in the hospital. Koch said she has learned through experience how important it is for people with traumatic brain injuries to have friends and family with them while they are healing.

___

(c)2014 The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.)

Visit The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.) at www.mankatofreepress.com

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Source: Free Press (Mankato, MN)


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