OLATHE, Kan. — Brian Eubanks of Olathe was all smiles in Mazatlán, a city within the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, enjoying the holidays with loved ones.
“We visited beautiful beaches, we were planning on scuba diving this last Friday,” Eubanks said. “The people there were very friendly, we felt totally safe most of the trip.”
But the feeling changed when violence broke out earlier this week after alleged drug trafficker Ovidio Guzmán, son of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, was arrested in Culiacan, just two hours from where Eubanks was staying in Mazatlán.
“They (locals) told us there was violence breaking out, and we didn’t know how bad it was,” he said. “But we still went to the beach, and the beach was pretty empty and most restaurants were closed on the beach ... we started seeing National Guard helicopters flying around.”
As the violence moved increasingly closer to Eubanks, his hopes of leaving by plane were dashed.
“We didn’t ever get to the airport in Mazatlán because it closed down that day, so there was a blockade on the way to the airport," he said. "The cartel took some semi-trailers from people and set them on fire in the middle of the road.”
By default, car and bus were the only way to escape after the airport shut down and his flight was canceled.
Eubanks had difficulty booking on flights with American Airlines, although he says the company was helpful. Luckily he had relatives in the area who were willing to drive him to safety.
“When we left, they closed the whole city down as far as restaurants, shops [and] closed the beach down just as a precaution because people were out getting robbed by the cartel,” he said. “They drove us to Durango, and we caught a bus to Guadalajara — we had a flight out at 6 a.m. [Sunday] morning.
"On the drive to Durango, we saw a couple of the trucks that were burnt out that they (cartel) blockaded the road with, and we drove through a tunnel filled with smoke still — the electricity was cut out in the tunnel.”
Throughout the journey, emotions were high, but Eubanks says he is comforted to be back on Kansas soil.
“It’s very relieving, it’s very freeing to drive on the road myself knowing that I had the possibility of not being here for a long time,” he said.