Chilean students seek compensation: Three wounded Chileans return to Destin for lawsuit deposition

Jacob Fuller
David Bilbao's native language is Spanish, and he does not speak fluent English. Log photographer Kathy Harrison translated for the interview.

Chilean citizen David Bilbao left Northwest Florida in 2009, a few months after a gunman wounded him and two of his friends, and killed two others. Now the three wounded survivors are seeking compensation for the damage done.

On Feb. 26, 2009, Dannie Baker fired shots into a townhome in Miramar Beach, where Bilbao and his friends, all Chilean citizens in Florida as part of a temporary work program for students, were talking. Nicholas Corp-Torres, 23, and Racine Argandona, 22, were killed. Francisco Cofre was shot in the head, and was in critical condition for an extended period before recovering. Sebastian Arizaga-Suarez and Bilbao were wounded.

The three returned to Destin last week to go before a court and seek compensation for their medical bills and emotional distress.

Bilbao said he drove by the townhome where the shooting occurred. It brought back emotions he hadn't felt in a long time, but he managed to hold his reactions in.

"It was very upsetting. I didn't cry because I was with my mom and son," Bilbao said. "That moment was very sad, but I also have a lot of memories of the people who helped me."

Bilbao was shot in the arm. After surgery in the U.S., he returned home to Chile, where he said he was unable to get the physical therapy he needed. In August of that year, Bilbao was lying on the floor at home. When he tried to push himself up, his arm broke in the spot where he had been shot.

"The bone was not completely fused together properly. From August to July, 2010, I had a cast on my arm," Bilbao said adding that in all that time, he didn't have health insurance.

When Bilbao tried to get help from the groups that had supported him while in the U.S. to pay for his medical bills related to the break in his arm, he was told that it wouldn't be covered because it happened too long after the attack.

Bilbao wasn't the only one who faced that problem. All three of the wounded survivors racked up expensive medical bills. On Friday, they gave depositions in a civil lawsuit they filed against Baker, Cultural Homestay International, Alliance Abroad Group, Bluewater Management Services, Summer Lake Owners Association, and Hospitality and Catering Services.

The three are claiming the groups are responsible because they didn't notice numerous red flags that should have alarmed them about Baker and his potential for such violence.

With the help of a television station in Chile, which has a fund to help those in need of medical attention, as well as a local clinic, Bilbao finally had surgery on his arm in 2010. It is better now, but is still not what it was before the shooting.

Despite the issues with his arm — he is unable to play many of the sports he used to enjoy or lift heavy weights — Bilbao has not allowed the horrifying events of that night in Miramar Beach to hold him back. He is now married and has a 2-year-old son, Benjamin. He completed his university studies and started his career as a biomedical engineer in Chile.

The trip back to the Emerald Coast was not all sad. Bilbao and his family arrived a week before the depositions and enjoyed site-seeing in Destin and on 30A, as well as some shopping. And despite his horrible experience the night he was shot, Bilbao hopes his son will one day follow in his footsteps.

"I want my son to grow up healthy and have everything. I want him to become a professional and be able to come to the United State and learn," Bilbao said. "I hope for him to get his university education here."