William Flower received the call from his brother-in-law last August that started him on a frightening and frustrating effort to enlist the help of the federal government to locate and help his injured niece.
But after a maddening tour of the bureaucracy — he enlisted the surprising help of the Russian Embassy and a local congressman to struggle through to a happy ending of a scary story.
“We (the U.S. government) don’t do a good job keeping an eye on Americans overseas,” said Flower.
His brother-in-law called about Flower’s niece, who had just been in a serious accident in Italy. He told Flower he had received a disjointed and poorly connected phone call from the hospital in Milan from the Italian family with which his daughter had been staying.
“He knew she had been on the back of a Vespa her friend had driven when they had the accident,” said Flower, “but he didn’t know which hospital she was in or how bad her injuries were.”
Desperate for answers, Flower sent an e-mail to the U.S. Consulate in Italy with his niece’s name, birthdate, and passport number hoping for information and assistance.
He got ignored.
After waiting a day, Flower contacted the Russian Consulate, since he had worked in Russia for years.
Within 11 hours, the Russians contacted Flower with the name of the hospital his niece stayed in and information on her injuries. A car had sideswiped her as she road down a busy street on her bike, breaking her leg so badly she needed pins to keep it together.
But when the girl’s father tried to arrange for her return to the United States for treatment, the Italians refused to release her unless he paid $17,000.
With still no help from the U.S. State Department, the girl’s father paid the money and she returned to the States after a month. She has since recovered and can now walk.
Furious and disappointed with the lack of aid from the U.S. government, Flower contacted the office of Congressman Paul Gosar, who lives in Flagstaff but represents Rim Country. Originally, the congressman’s office refused to help because his niece lived in another state; Flower persisted in asking for help.
“I told Gosar’s office something needs to be done,” said Flower, “I told them I can’t call the president, they are the government, they could do that and be heard. Not me.”
After months of communication between Gosar’s office, Flower, and the U.S. Consulate, Flower got an apology.
In a letter dated five months after his niece’s accident, Eugene J. Arnold, Chief of American Citizen’s Services for the Consulate General of the United States wrote:
“A thorough search of our files revealed that we did in fact receive an e-mail from you on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011. We did not reply to your request for assistance. Please permit me to offer our profound apologies for failing to do so. Please also accept my assurance that our lack of a reply was not intentional, but a result of human error.”
Not only did Flower receive the apology, but also assurances that the Consulate would fix the mistake.
“This incident has prompted me to conduct a review of our operating procedures,” wrote Arnold. “My staff and I have identified a number of weak points in our procedures that contributed to our failure to respond to your e-mail. I have implemented changes that should improve our process.”
Flower feels a sense of satisfaction receiving the letter of apology for what his family had to go through. He and his family appreciate that Gosar’s office helped negotiate the murky impersonal waters of the federal bureaucracy.
“Persistence with your representative will get results,” said Flower.