New issue in fatal crash

Man, 24, accused in deaths apparently in the U.S. illegally

November 30, 2006|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,sun reporter

The landscaper charged with vehicular homicide and drunken driving in a crash Thanksgiving night that killed a Marine on leave and his date is apparently in the country illegally and had received a Maryland driver's license by first obtaining one from North Carolina - a state whose loose requirements once made it a favorite for undocumented aliens seeking identification cards.

It is unclear how Eduardo Raul Morales-Soriano, 25, a Mexican citizen living in Laurel, came to the United States or whether the North Carolina license was his first, but anti-immigration activists said yesterday said that until North Carolina changed its licensing laws in August, the state was a magnet for immigration fraud.

From there, the jump to Maryland apparently would not have been difficult. Morales-Soriano could have submitted the North Carolina license along with a variety of other sources of documentation with his signature, date of birth or address, according to state regulations. A 2003 Maryland attorney general's opinion concluded that proof of legal U.S. residency was not a requirement for a driver's license.

James Dinkins, acting special agent in charge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office in Baltimore, said yesterday that there was no record of Morales-Soriano entering the country legally. Immigration officials said they planned to confirm his identity through fingerprints.

At the conclusion of Howard County's criminal case, immigration officials will initiate proceedings to remove Morales-Soriano from the country, Dinkins said.

The Thanksgiving accident, in which Howard County police allege Morales-Soriano's blood-alcohol level was four times the legal limit, resulted in the death of Marine Cpl. Brian Mathews, 21, of Columbia and Jennifer Bower, 24, of Montgomery Village, which is north of Gaithersburg.

The couple were on their second date when a Nissan Sentra driven by Morales-Soriano slammed into Bower's Toyota Corolla, which was stopped at a red light on Route 175 at Route 108.

Morales-Soriano has been charged with two counts of homicide by motor vehicle, two counts of manslaughter while intoxicated and driving while under the influence. He was being held yesterday at the Howard County Detention Center on an $830,000 bond.

Morales-Soriano's attorney, Bradley A. Goldbloom of Baltimore, called into question last night the accuracy of the 0.32 Breathalyzer reading, which was included in court records filed by police and announced Monday by the county's acting police chief.

"It's ridiculously high - I don't think anyone would be able to function at all, talk, walk or even be conscious," Goldbloom said. "It's my understanding that he had to blow seven or eight times before they were able to get any reading at all. If that's, in fact, the case, it would call into question the reliability of the machine and how the level was actually gathered or obtained."

Charging documents reviewed Tuesday morning made no mention of multiple attempts by police to get a reading.

Goldbloom said that when a suspect is not blowing into a machine correctly, it is common for police to have him or her repeat it. He said that after each attempt, the machine is supposed to expel the breath.

"If in fact the breath was remaining in the machine, it's possible, if not probable, the more times someone blows [into the machine] the higher the rating is going to be," Goldbloom said.

Goldbloom declined to say how he obtained details of the testing done on his client.

Police could not be reached for comment about that last night.

The accident is likely to revive concerns about illegal aliens obtaining driver's licenses.

"These issues of laxity are simply going to expose people on a personal basis and national basis to just what happened," said Neil Berro, executive director of the Coalition for a Secure Driver's License in New York. "The example was as personal as the next time you cross the street or get in a car, or as macro as 9-11. In between those issues are concerns related to identity theft."

But Kim Propeack, a spokeswoman for CASA of Maryland, an aid group for Hispanic immigrants, argued that the country is better off knowing who is on its roads and where they live, that they've passed a driving-skills test and that they have insurance. Murray Simon, president of Conexiones, a Hispanic educational group in Howard County, said that Morales-Soriano's immigration status is irrelevant.

"My personal feeling is that this whole business of illegal and legal is just a case of name-calling," Simon said.

This is not Morales-Soriano's first traffic stop in the state. On July 2, he was pulled over in Riverdale and charged with driving the wrong way on a one-way street, speeding and negligent driving. He was found not guilty, according to court records.

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