Jose Trejo Encino
When Jose Trejo Encino lost control of his 1996 Pontiac Grand Prix late one night last month in Madison County, Tenn., killing one of his passengers and injuring another, he at least had the presence of mind to throw the cans of beer he had from the car into the woods before the police arrived, according to affidavits entered in court from witnesses.
Encino, 27, who admitted to deputies at the scene “to drinking a 12-pack of beer earlier in the night,” is now facing charges of vehicular homicide and tampering with evidence after the one-car accident that killed Sergio Lopez, 18, and injured Hugo Trejo, 20. An administrative hold was also placed on Encino this week after an agent for the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement determined the suspect was in the U.S. illegally. He is being held on $150,000 bond.
According to affidavits from deputies who investigated the wreck, “a strong odor of an intoxicant about his person” was detected. Alcohol is believed to have contributed to the accident.
“We are awaiting the results (of the blood-alcohol-level test) from the toxicology lab,” Sheriff David Woolfork told the Jackson, Tenn., Sun.
Encino’s case comes as the immigration debate is beginning to focus on the problem of illegal aliens and DWI fatalities.
In neighboring North Carolina, Hispanic drivers were involved in 76,000 of the drunken-driving arrests made last year even though they make up only 10 percent of the population. The state has seen five deaths in the last two weeks in accidents caused by illegal aliens.
“These victims would be alive if our border was secure and our immigration laws were enforced,” William Gheen, president of Americans For Legal Immigration, told WRAL-TV of Raleigh. “It’s clear across the country – there’s a direct connection between drinking and driving deaths and the illegal alien community. (We need to) crack down on illegal aliens in this state and do everything we can to prevent these preventable deaths.”
While not dismissing the problem of drinking and driving, Tony Asion, an ex-cop and current director of public-safety programs for El Pueblo, a Hispanic advocacy group, said the focus on the national origin of the offenders is misplaced.
“Anytime a Latino does anything that’s wrong, it’s going to come down on the rest of us,” he told WRAL-TV. “It’s not a Latino issue. It’s a drunk-driving issue, and that’s what we have to deal with.”
El Pueblo, along with the North Carolina Highway Patrol, has launched a multimedia education campaign to warn Spanish-speaking drivers of the dangers of drinking and driving.
The problem is that many young Hispanic men use alcohol to deal with boredom and cultural differences, said Asion.
“They’re learning how to drive. They’re learning how to survive,” he said.
As WND reported, Asion’s program came too late for 3 young people – two North Carolina State University students and a 16-year-old – who were killed by an illegal alien, who allegedly was driving drunk, and already had a record of crime in the U.S.
Pastor Rios Sanchez
Authorities say Pastor Rios Sanchez, 55, is expected back in a North Carolina court on Nov. 15 on charges he killed Helen Meghan Hughes, 22, of Summerville, S.C., Jennifer Carter, 18, of Jacksonville, N.C., and Hughes’ stepbrother, 16-year-old Ben Leonard.
The two women were students at North Carolina State and all three were returning to Raleigh recently when a car crossed the center line about five miles from Sanford and collided head on with Hughes’ station wagon. Two died instantly and Leonard died after being taken to Central Carolina Hospital, Highway Patrol Trooper K.T. Hill said of the Oct. 27 crash.
Sanchez is being held on $75,000 bail and an immigration detainer on three counts of involuntary manslaughter and he also may face charges of carrying fraudulent residency card, immigration authorities told the Raleigh News-Observer.
Authorities also said Sanchez had pleaded guilty to driving without a license a year ago. And court records show he was accused of a similar count in March and another in April. One count was dismissed and Sanchez failed to show up for court on the other.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of traffic citations of people who are illegal immigrants, and as a practical matter (immigration) is not notified of each one of these,” Tom Lock, the prosecutor, said.
Marcos Ramos Medina. Courtesy Yakima Herald Republic
It was only a short time ago a twice-deported illegal alien with a record of drug arrests was told he was facing jail time. Marcos Ramos Medina, 35, who was found to have at least eight aliases and falsely identified himself at his first court appearance, escaped serious injury on Aug. 4, 2005, when his car swerved several times across the center line, causing a tractor-trailer rig to jackknife in Yakima, Wash. His car then plowed head-on into the 2000 Lexus driven by Peggy Keller, 53, dean of distance education at Yakima Valley Community College, killing her at the scene. As WND reported, Medina’s first trial came to an abrupt end in August 2006 when Russell T. “Todd” Sharpe, a six-year Washington State Patrol officer, testified that the suspect fought against his restraints while being taken to the hospital for a blood alcohol test and refused to answer questions. The case against the Mexican national was declared a mistrial because his constitutional right to remain silent had been violated. It took a second jury only 30 minutes to find Medina guilty.
Then in 2005, WND reported, Scott Gardner of Mount Holly, N.C., was on vacation and heading to the coast with his family when his station wagon was struck by a truck driven by Ramiro Gallegos, an illegal alien charged three times previously with drunk driving. Gardner, the father of two young children, was killed. Gallegos of Mexico was charged with second-degree murder and driving while impaired.
Vitalina Bautista Vargas bids farewell to husband in court (courtesy Chattanooga Times Free Press)
In Chattanooga, Tenn., a court heard the case of an illegal alien convicted of running her car into a house and killing a 91-year-old woman. A judge ordered Vitalina Bautista Vargas deported. Amazingly, the family of the victim remained compassionate and merciful. “They wanted one of the conditions to be that she learn how to drive,” prosecutor Jay Wood said. Prosecutor Wood said federal officials insisted that she be deported. He said as a convicted felon, she will not be allowed to apply to re-enter the country for at least 10 years. Louella Winton, the victim, was asleep in her bed when the car crashed into her house. The vehicle knocked the victim through the bedroom wall and threw her against the wall of the house next door.
But driving under the influence may be only the tip of the problem of illegal aliens on U.S. highways.
There also was the case of Victor Manuel Caballero. Even though he entered the country illegally from Mexico five years ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that he could collect damages for being hurt in an auto accident from a special state fund set up to benefit those hurt in accidents with uninsured drivers. Caballero would hitch a ride to his computer job with a co-worker, 19-year-old Ricardo Martinez. One morning, Martinez fell asleep at the wheel, veered off the road and struck a parked tractor trailer. Martinez walked away from the accident, but Caballero, who also was illegal, was badly hurt. The hospital costs of $38,300 were paid by a charity fund, while his successful lawsuit found he was eligible for up to $15,000 for “pain and suffering.”
Little caution, critics say, is being exercised when it comes to preventing mayhem on America’s highways as the country witnesses record high numbers of unlicensed, unregistered, uninsured drivers – millions of whom are illegal aliens like Medina.
While no one – in or out of government – tracks traffic accidents caused by illegal aliens, the statistical and anecdotal evidence suggests many of last year’s 42,636 road deaths involved illegal aliens.
A report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Study found 20 percent of fatal accidents involve at least one driver who lacks a valid license. In California, another study showed that those who have never held a valid license are about five times more likely to be involved in a fatal road accident than licensed drivers.
Statistically, that makes them an even greater danger on the road than drivers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked – and nearly as dangerous as drunk drivers.
While police do not routinely ask drivers about their immigration status, New York’s Rockland County District Attorney Michael Bongiorno – who has prosecuted more than 20 felony cases this year involving people accused of both unlicensed driving and drunken driving – estimated that two-thirds of about 70 drivers charged in Spring Valley with misdemeanor counts of driving while intoxicated and unlicensed driving were illegal immigrants.
“Unfortunately, the undocumented drivers here do that (drive unlicensed) more than the natives,” said California Highway Patrol Officer Wendy Hahn. “If they’ve been involved in an incident, they flee because they don’t want to deal with immigration.”
Federal immigration officials typically do not get involved when an undocumented person is charged with drunken driving or driving without a license, said Bongiorno and police officials around the country.
While the Census Bureau estimates there are 9 million illegal aliens living in the U.S., other sources put the figure closer to 20 million. Running parallel to those estimates are the best guesses on the number of unlicensed motorists – 17 million.
In addition, the states with the most illegal aliens also have the most unlicensed drivers. Those states are also in the lead for the most hit-and-run accidents, according to reports issued by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the Pew Hispanic Center. California ranks at the top with 24.1 percent of the known 11.1 million illegal aliens.
The proportion of unlicensed drivers varies widely state-by-state, with 6 percent in Maine and 23 percent in New Mexico.
Many of those advocating allowing illegal aliens to get driver’s licenses make the case by suggesting most unlicensed drivers are so because they cannot get a license.
In California, for instance, the Legislature is considering several proposals that would help illegal immigrants drive. One of them is a bill that would prevent police from seizing vehicles driven by unlicensed drivers. Senate Bill 626 by Sen. Nell Soto, D-Ontario, would apply to all drivers who have never obtained a California license. Opponents point out those favoring the bill are the same people promoting licenses for illegals.
‘Under current state law, police can seize vehicles for up to 30 days if the driver is unlicensed. Under the new bill, if the driver never had a license, the vehicle could be seized for only 24 hours; those who had licenses suspended or revoked would still have the vehicles impounded for up to 30 days.
Who are the people who have never had a license? Disproportionately, critics of the bill say, they are illegal immigrants.
In the Maryland Legislature, Delegate Luiz R.S. Simmons, D-Montgomery, is drafting legislation that would stiffen penalties for unlicensed drivers. His bill requires them to appear before a judge and would make them subject to up to 90 days in jail for a first offense and as much as a year for a second offense. In addition, cars belonging to unlicensed drivers could be impounded for up to a month or forfeited if they were involved in an accident that caused an injury.
Though there is absolutely no government data on the identity of Maryland’s unlicensed drivers – or those in any other state – Simmons’s bill has been attacked by immigrant rights’ activists, who say it targets Latinos.
Whether they are mostly illegal aliens or not, one thing is certain – there are more unlicensed drivers on the road than ever before. So prevalent is the trend that many police departments have cut back on sobriety checkpoints in favor of checkpoints to check the documentation of drivers.
A WND statistical study of police reports of dozens of such checkpoints around the country show that close to 10 percent of drivers stopped are either unlicensed or have suspended licenses. Even at sobriety checkpoints, far more drivers are found to be unlicensed than intoxicated.
While some say the answer to the illegal alien-unlicensed driver crisis is permitting illegals to get licensed, others say the solution is decreasing the number of illegal immigrants living in the United States.
Rules determining who is eligible for a driver’s license vary by state. Eleven states do not require legal immigration status to obtain a license. The rest do require proof of legal status, either by state law or the documents required to apply. The eleven states are: Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. Tennessee and Utah have introduced a separate “certificate for driving” for state residents who cannot prove they are lawfully present in the United States. But Tennessee stopped issuing the certificates in February after reports that undocumented immigrants were coming from out of state and using false documents to apply.
The Real ID act, scheduled to take effect in 2008, will prohibit all states from issuing licenses to illegal aliens or the licenses will not be accepted as identification for federal purposes.
In addition to being unlicensed, most illegal alien drivers are uninsured – making the accidents they cause even more injurious. Statewide, more than one-third of California drivers are without insurance, according to the California Department of Insurance. In some low-income and minority neighborhoods, the rate is over 50 percent. In San Jose, for instance, 55 percent of all drivers on the road have no auto insurance. In some parts of Los Angeles, Imperial, San Diego and Alameda counties, the rate reaches as high as 90 percent.
The situation isn’t much better in other states with high populations of illegals. In Texas, 27 percent of drivers are uninsured. In Florida, the estimates are between 15 and 25 percent. In Colorado, 32 percent.
There are no official statistics about highway carnage and illegal aliens. But there is an increasing awareness among law enforcement officials – and victims of traffic accidents – that illegal aliens are playing a disproportionate role in the road mayhem.
According to surveys conducted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Hispanics believe it takes 6-8 drinks to affect driving, while Americans, indoctrinated for years against drunk driving, believe it takes just 2-4 drinks.
In 2001, MADD reported 44.1 percent of California’s drunk driving arrests were of Hispanics, while, officially, they made up just 31.3 percent of the population.