Jailed mom in Mexico: Next time, 'I'll drive'

By Bob Christie, Cristina Silva and Elliot Spagat

Associated Press

Published: Friday, May 31 2013 11:14 p.m. MDT

FILE - This 2012 file photo provided by the Maldonado family shows Gary and Yanira Maldonado. Yanira Maldonado, jailed in Mexico on a drug-smuggling charge, was released late Thursday night, May 30, 2013, after court officials reviewed her case. Maldonado was arrested by the Mexican military last week after they found nearly 12 pounds (5.4 kilograms) of pot under her seat on the commercial bus traveling from Mexico to Arizona. (AP Photo/Maldonado Family, File)

Cristina Silva, Associated Press

PHOENIX — The American woman who was jailed for a week after Mexican authorities said they found marijuana under her bus seat says she'll return to Mexico someday, but she'll drive her car.

Yanira Maldonado returned to her suburban Phoenix home Friday, a day after a judge in Nogales, Mexico, dismissed drug smuggling charges.

The judge viewed video that showed the 42-year-old and her husband getting on the bus with just a purse, blankets and bottles of water before it was stopped by Mexican soldiers.

At a news conference near Phoenix Friday evening, Maldonado said she doesn't think she'll end up in jail again when she returns to Mexico.

"I don't think it's going to happen again," she said of her arrest, but "I'll drive my own vehicle."

After spending the night in a hotel on the U.S. side of the border, the Maldonados arrived home Friday afternoon to be reunited with their seven children, who range in age from 6 to 25.

Yanira Maldonado said she didn't blame her home country but Mexican authorities should do a better job of arresting drug smugglers "and not people who are innocent like me."

"What happened to me can happen to anyone," she said Friday.

Since she still has family in Mexico, she said she'll return, "not right now, maybe in the future."

Maldonado walked out of a prison on the outskirts of Nogales, Mexico, and into her husband's arms late Thursday after a judge dismissed drug-smuggling charges against her.

"Many thanks to everyone, especially my God who let me go free, my family, my children, who with their help, I was able to survive this test," she said outside the jail before crossing through the Nogales port of entry into Arizona.

The governor of the Mexican state of Sonora, where Nogales is located, apologized for Maldonado's ordeal during a visit to Phoenix on Friday. He said he made sure she was safe and wasn't transferred to a federal prison and worked to ensure the court proceedings went quickly.

"In a few words I could say we're very sorry that she was in the wrong place in the wrong moment," Gov. Guillermo Padres Elias said. "But we're very glad that she's OK and she still says ... that she will continue visiting our country and she will continue going on tourism trips to Sonora.

"Because Sonora really likes the United States people and Arizonans to go down there. We welcome them with open arms with a big smile and we see you as a family, so we want to continue with that."

With kidnappings, drug cartel shootouts and other violent crime pervasive in parts of Mexico, the tourism industry has taken a hit, although popular destinations like Cancun are so well-protected that problems are rare.

Kidnappings and cartel violence are prominent among the U.S. State Department's lengthy set of warnings about travel in Mexico. But there are also warnings about getting caught up in drug smuggling, either by being used as a "blind mule" who doesn't know drugs have been put in their car or luggage, or by being strong-armed by smugglers who threaten harm if a person doesn't carry drugs.

Maldonado also may have been caught up in a shakedown by Mexican police who were seeking a bribe. Her husband said police sought $5,000 to let her go.

She may have just been randomly assigned the seat under which the smugglers hid the pot. Or she could have been put there on purpose by smugglers who hoped an American was less likely to be targeted for a search and to provide cover for the real smuggler.

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