Fugitive Ex-Priest Jumps to His Death from Mazatlan Hotel Balcony

By Isaac Guzman
Associated Press, carried in Mercury News [Mexico]
Downloaded May 27, 2003

MAZATLAN, Mexico - A former U.S. Roman Catholic priest who crossed into Mexico to escape child molestation charges in California and Wisconsin died after leaping from a third-story balcony as law enforcement officers surrounded the hotel, authorities said Monday.

Federal and state agents surrounded the Vista Dorada Hotel just off one of the resort city's most-popular beaches Sunday and planned to arrest 62-year-old Siegfried F. Widera, who was accused of 42 felony counts of child molestation in the United States.

Minutes after authorities arrived, Widera ran to the balcony of his room and jumped. He died of severe cranial trauma as members of the Mazatlan Red Cross were taking him to a hospital, said Marta Gutierrez, a state attorney general's spokeswoman in Sinaloa state.

Gutierrez said Widera had not been accused of wrongdoing in Mexico, but that authorities ordered his arrest according to U.S. arrest warrants. Mexico had planned to extradite the fugitive.

Police said it was unclear when Widera arrived in Mazatlan, 530 miles northwest of Mexico City on the Pacific coast, but that he probably came from Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas.

This month, Texas authorities said Widera had been spotted in west Texas, south New Mexico and northern Mexico, and that he may have tried to work as a priest in northern Mexico villages. Gutierrez said it was unclear whether Widera had been acting as a priest in Mazatlan or elsewhere.

A manhunt for Widera had expanded from Milwaukee and Orange County, Calif., to Tucson, Ariz., El Paso, Texas, and the U.S. Marshal's liaison office in Mexico City, said U.S. Marshal William Kruziki.

"Widera had posed a significant danger to children in both nations," Kruziki said. "His death in Mexico is a sad ending to a tremendously complicated and sad life."

Widera was ordained in 1967. Six years later, the priest was convicted of sexual misconduct with an adolescent boy in the Milwaukee area and sentenced to three years' probation.

In 1976, he was moved from Milwaukee to Orange County. The Diocese of Orange said it was not aware of Widera's conviction at the time, but confirmed he arrived with a warning from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee that he had a "moral problem having to do with a boy."

Widera allegedly continued to molest until he was removed from the ministry in 1985 following sexual abuse allegations.

Authorities said the California molestations took place when Widera was a priest at St. Justin Martyr Church in Anaheim and St. Martin de Porres Church in Yorba Linda.

A 25-year-old truck driver filed a civil suit in April 2002 accusing Widera of abuse and claiming the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the Diocese of Orange covered up molestations.

The next month, Widera was charged in Milwaukee County with four counts of enticing a child and five counts of indecent behavior with a child, but authorities could not find him.

In October, Orange County prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for 33 felony counts of molestation.

The Marshals Service said Widera's most recent U.S. address was across a country club near Tucson. Marshals began focusing on Mexico after he was observed crossing at the El Paso border.

The Marshals Service said it had deputies on the way to Mazatlan, but they had not arrived at the time Widera died. The U.S. State Department's American Services Division was coordinating the return of Widera's body


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