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Suspect in 2008 Lee County killing caught in Mexico

Jun. 1, 2012
Debbie Poklemba and daughter Tera Oben react to the news of the arrest of the Luis Gonzalez in Mexico. Gonzalez is accused of killing Poklemba's daughter Tia in San Carlos Park in 2008. / Brian Hirten/


There were smiles, but also tears on the faces of Tia Poklemba’s mother and sister.

The two had learned Thursday that the man accused of murdering Poklemba had been arrested in Mexico.

“We cried, we laughed,” said Debbie Poklemba, Tia’s mother. “It kind of felt like somebody lifted something off me, it was relief, but I haven’t stopped crying. It brings everything all back to when (the media) was on my frontyard, but it’s a different way, a better way.”

U.S. federal marshals, working with Lee County Sheriff’s Office and the state attorney’s office, arrested Luis Gonzalez, 26, in El Pedernal, Mexico, on Thursday.

The arrest came as a result of a tip called into “America’s Most Wanted” in March, after the television show aired a third episode about Poklemba’s killing.

“In that particular airing on Lifetime TV, that generated the crucial tip that pinpointed his location,” said Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott during a Friday news conference. “We knew he was in Mexico, but that’s like saying he’s in the United States, well it’s a big place. That tip that was generated from ‘America’s Most Wanted’ tipped the spear to push this thing through.”

Tia Poklemba was found bruised and bloodied on the side of a San Carlos Park road on Aug. 8, 2008. She later died.

She had left Best Western Spring Resort’s Tiki Bar in San Carlos Park with Gonzalez. After stopping at a convenience store, a struggle ensued inside the car.

Detectives say Gonzalez then drove a short distance and Poklemba jumped out of the car — her shoes in hand, her phone flipped open and gripping her pocket knife. When she began to run, Gonzalez rammed into her, knocked her down and then backed over her before leaving her for dead, reports state.

Poklemba was discovered by a newspaper delivery driver the next morning. The driver told deputies she had a missing ear, a hole in her shoulder and clumps of her hair were pulled out.

She was barely clinging to life.

The video and the image of her daughter on that road haven’t left Debbie Poklemba.

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“I think of my daughter sitting in that road, alive and torn up,” said Debbie Poklemba, choking back her tears. “She was alive and I wasn’t there to be with her, but (the funeral home) was nice enough to help me out so I could see her one last time. I see that in my head all the time. That was not my daughter, what he did to her, I don’t know how he can live with himself. He’s a coward.”

Tera Oben, Tia Poklemba’s sister, said Tia was the kind of person who brought the best out of everybody she met.

“We’re blessed to have known her for so long and be related to her,” she said.

Gonzales is awaiting extradition proceedings in Mexico.

“He’s on a dirt floor in a Mexican jail, where he belongs and where he will stay until brought back to face American justice,” Scott said. “Our work is not finished here, a lot has been done, a lot more to do.”

Gonzalez has been charged with one count of manslaughter by intentional act with a deadly weapon and one count of leaving the scene of an accident with a death, both first degree felony charges that carry a penalty of up to 30 years in prison, said Samantha Syoen, communications director for the state attorney’s office.

Scott said there are still political and diplomatic issues that have to be ironed out between Mexico and law enforcement agencies in Florida in order for the extradition to proceed.

“I won’t be satisfied until a judge renders a sentence,” said Det. Mike Carr, who led the investigation with the sheriff’s office. “That’s when the job will be done. I was real happy to hear (about his arrest), and now I get my shot at him; he’s taken his shot at the family.”

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