Give and Take

The Oscar Hernandez saga demonstrates the benefits and risks of fundraising through the media.

Other news organizations would do likewise in the days that followed; especially involved was KJME-AM, a Spanish-language radio station on which Pedro Hernandez made pleas for assistance. But it was the Post account that caught Boyles's attention, prompting him to raise the subject on his KHOW morning-drive program. "The whole thing was a really great, philosophical open-lines topic for talk radio," Boyles says. "This boy's nationality -- did it matter when it came to saving his life? And some people said it did. We had callers saying, 'Ship him out of here,' even though that would have been a death sentence. Then, in the middle of a break, it came to me: Why not try to save his life? And the only person I thought of who could give a campaign like that legitimacy was Tancredo."

Boyles has known Tancredo since the early '90s, when the latter -- then the president of the Independence Institute, a conservative think tank -- would frequently appear on Colorado Inside Out, a panel discussion on Channel 12 that Boyles hosts. Although Boyles stresses that he often disagrees with Tancredo on specific issues, he views him to be a pal. Appropriately, no media forum was more welcoming to Tancredo than Boyles's show during the fallout from the Apodaca matter.

Even so, Boyles insists that his reasons for thinking of Tancredo in relation to Oscar Hernandez had as much to do with the boy as the man. "I would be a fool to say my friendship doesn't help Tom -- but I wasn't trying to clean up his act. I'd been listening to people say, 'Deport the kid and let him die,' and maybe some of them thought Tom would feel the same way. But I know Tom's heart, and I knew he wouldn't let this little boy die."

As for Tancredo, he describes himself as "a shmaltz -- I cry at commercials." But beyond simply wanting to do his part for Oscar, he says he enlisted in Boyles's crusade because he thought that, this time around, his public persona would be a lightning rod in a positive sense. "I have a very high visibility on the issue of immigration, so I thought it would naturally attract the kind of attention that might lead to additional support."

After Tancredo signed up, Boyles moved forward with plans to pass the hat for Oscar on December 18 outside the BankOne branch at Colorado and Yale. But he also went to pains to make sure everything was on the up and up, because he's been burned at least once by people he tried to help. In 2000, Boyles saw a news report about the traffic death of four-year-old Alexis Dixon, whose family wasn't sure if they could scrape together enough cash to give the child a proper funeral. After September and Denise Dixon, Alexis's mother and grandmother, told about their loss on the air, KHOW listeners responded by donating over $30,000. But there were no controls on the money, and while some of it went to a funeral, the rest was spent on items like a used Blazer for September that was stickered at $14,000. In an interview with Westword almost a year later, Boyles was still miffed, saying, "The listeners did the right thing, and [September] misused it. She broke a trust. People gave in a spirit of love. I have no idea in what spirit she took it" ("Collision Course," April 19, 2001).

With these thoughts in the back of his mind, Boyles quizzed representatives of BankOne and Children's Hospital of Denver; he says he was told "they'd created a trust in the name of Oscar Hernandez that was controlled by Children's Hospital -- and that if, God forbid, something happened, all the money would go to Children's for the next sick kid who needed it." Boyles repeated this regularly on December 18, and also on December 20 during a previously scheduled pre-holiday fundraiser for Children's Hospital, which KHOW has sponsored for many years. Children's CEO Dori Biester was a guest on the December 20 program, and, Boyles recalls, "never once did she or anyone else say there wasn't a trust. I didn't get the facts until the Post did a story where Children's said they weren't part of the trust."

The Post's December 25 revelation about the Oakland offer was even more startling. The article, credited to Marsha Austin and Michael Riley, stated that Children's Hospital in Oakland "has just opened a state-of-the-art bone-marrow transplant center, and doctors there need to perform 25 transplants in the next year to get accreditation from the state of California." To that end, the hospital told the Hernandez family that it would treat Oscar gratis. Children's Hospital of Denver received this news on December 13, sharing it with the family, but not with any of the other people who'd rallied round Oscar. The deck of a December 27 News headline spoke volumes: "Hospital Says It Had No Duty to Tell Public of Free Surgery Offer."

In the days that followed, Susana Nieto was quoted as saying the Hernandez clan didn't immediately take advantage of Oakland's largesse because the hospital hadn't contacted them directly, making them wonder how legitimate the offer was, and because people in Denver had already been so generous. To its credit, Children's Hospital in Oakland didn't respond to these odd rationalizations by slamming the door. Vanya Rainova, acting spokesperson for the hospital, says a letter was sent out the week of January 6 "reiterating that we would be happy to do the procedure. But we have not heard from the family since then."

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