QCOSTARICA – For San Jose, the route to the international airport will include the 7 kilometer stretch of the Autopista General Cañas, the same being targeted by assailants by placing obstructions on the road forcing drivers to stop and then assault them.
This has been occurring for some time, way before the pandemic hit the country. But, due to the sanitary vehicular restrictions, from 11:00 pm to 5:00 am daily, fewer cars are on the road in the middle of the night. And fewer police patrols.
The latest incident to be made public is the attack on the van carrying an American Airlines flight crew after leaving their hotel, being transported to the Juan Santamaría (San Jose airport) in Alajuela.
According to the driver, the attack occurred shortly before 4:00 am, in the area of the Alfredo González Flores bridge, better known as the ‘platina’ bridge, when something placed on the road forced him to stop, at which time two assailants, one holding the driver at knifepoint and the other a gun at the flight crew, who were asked to turn over their valuables.
No one suffered physical injuries.
The 5:20 am flight bound for Miami (MIA) was delayed for hours.
The object in this case was a plastic bucket filled with water which was thrown off the road when the vehicle hit it, forcing the driver to stop to see what had happened.
The assailants fled on foot, believed to have hidden the charrales (bushes) surrounding General Cañas. according to the report by the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ).
This section of the Autopista, mostly the stretch between National Institute of Learning (INA) and the Costa Rican Convention Center, is targeted by a group of criminals, presumed young people from a neighborhood near the highway.
The OIJ indicated that the group travels on foot to commit their misdeeds against drivers, but they also attack pedestrians at the bus stops.
The OIJ reports that the time and manner of attack is constantly changing to avoid police action.
However, in most of the complaints, the victims say that they felt an object hit the vehicle. In other cases, it is because they saw a metallic object on the road, which can causes a strong impact on a vehicle that causes the driver to stop on the side of the road to check for damage.
The attacks occur both sides of the road, in the direction of San José towards Alajuela and in the opposite direction.
Five attacks a week
On February 24, the OIJ had reported that during this year they had received at least five reports a week on the aforementioned section of General Cañas.
At that time, Danny Vergara, an OIJ Heredia official, said that in the complaints, the drivers said that they heard a loud bang from their car and that for this reason they pulled over to find out what was happening and that was when armed individuals came out of the side of the road and stripped them of their property.
“It should be noted that the objects that cause damage to cars are purposely placed by antisocials. There are other victims in these assaults, the victims being the people who wait for the buses at the stops.
“This organization (OIJ) recommends to the drivers on this or any other road that if they have to pull over, do so in safe places and be aware of the surroundings. To the people waiting for the buses not to show cell phones or valuables that are attractive to criminals,” said Canales.
The majority of these attacks are occurring at night, as stated before, criminals taking advantage of the low traffic volume due to the vehicle restrictions.
Sarah Jantz, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, told ViewfromtheWing.com: “Our security team is in close contact with the local police and has acted quickly to implement better measures to ensure the safety of our crew members.”
Also, it was reported that there is no evidence that the assailants deliberately targeted American Airlines flight attendants.
However, as a precautionary measure, it was established that the transportation of the crew to and from the airport will be carried out by “unmarked or discreetly marked” vans and alternate routes will begin to be used.
For its part, the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT) – Costa Rica Tourism Board, in a statement, indicated that the attackers’ mode of operation is known to both the OIJ and the Ministry of Public Security (MSP).
“We have been informed that in previous weeks Costa Rican citizens have been victims of similar situations in that same location during the early hours of the morning or late at night. The competent authorities may expand on the investigation they carry out and the characteristics of the facts.
“The ICT, for its part, has proceeded to alert the rent-a-car companies and the capital’s hotels so that they, in turn, inform their clients and tourist carriers of the recommendation that the police authorities extend to us: not stopping if an object is thrown at them on the road and looking for a lighted and safe place – such as a gas station- to pull over”.
Meanwhile, Enrique Arguedas, deputy director of the Fuerza Publica (National Police), explained that for quite some time there has been a police presence “almost 24 hours” in the vicinity of the Castella school, which is an intermediate point between the INA and the National Convention Center.
“We have it there because from that place we can move to any of the roads, either to San José or Alajuela. We also carry out strategic patrols between the Juan Pablo II bridge in La Uruca to the San Antonio de Belén crossing,” said Arguedas.
The police chief added that more resources, ie police, are needed to better patrol the area in the early hours of the morning and that foreigners are not being targeted by the criminal group operating in the area.
“Unfortunately, this incident with the American Airlines crew took place in the early hours of the morning, as that will require a greater injection of resources.
“If it seems to me that this criminal activity is not directed because they were foreigners, but it was a fortuitous event, since it is the first event that we have to the detriment of that segment of the population,” said Arguedas.