Suspect failed exam twice

N.C. official says man charged in fatal wreck eventually got a license

December 08, 2006|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,SUN REPORTER

A man accused of driving while drunk and killing a Marine and his date in a Thanksgiving accident in Columbia failed the written portion of his driver's license test twice in North Carolina before passing it on a third try.

Police said Eduardo Raul Morales-Soriano of Laurel, who authorities say is apparently an illegal immigrant, had four times the legal limit of alcohol in his system.

He faces multiple drunken driving, negligent homicide and negligent manslaughter charges in the deaths of Cpl. Brian Mathews, 21, of Columbia, who was home on leave, and Jennifer Bower, 24, of Montgomery Village.

Morales-Soriano took a Spanish-language version of the North Carolina driver's test on a computer three times, passing on the third try, Margaret Howell, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, said yesterday. He got his driver's license Feb. 5, 2004, when he passed the written test and road test.

He obtained a Maryland license legally on July 8, 2005, by submitting a Sprint phone bill, Bank of America account statement, a North Carolina driver's license and Virginia identification card, according to redacted copies obtained by The Sun under the state's Public Information Act.

"We don't ask about someone's immigration status," said Buel C. Young, a spokesman for the state's Motor Vehicle Administration. "We're not an immigration office."

If Morales-Soriano, 25, had entered the country illegally today, he likely would have had a harder time obtaining a Maryland driver's license because Virginia and North Carolina have tightened their restrictions in recent years.

Maryland's efforts, however, have focused on catching fraud. A 2003 Maryland attorney general's opinion concluded that proof of legal U.S. residency was not a requirement for a driver's license.

"We have made changes to get rid of documents that are difficult or impossible to authenticate," Young said. "We're looking to combat fraudulent attempts to get a driver's license, but [Morales-Soriano's] was not fraudulent. He went through the proper channels."

Tracing Morales-Soriano's steps through motor vehicle records, he obtained a Virginia identification card and learner's permit on July 12, 2001, two months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompted a review of the country's driver's license laws. Seven of the 19 hijackers had fraudulently obtained Virginia driver's licenses or identification cards.

To obtain the identification card and learner's permit in 2001, Morales-Soriano had to show proof of identity and Virginia residency, but not proof that he was in the United States legally.

Bill Foy, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, said that Morales-Soriano, who was born in Mexico, did not have to complete a driver's education course because he was older than 19. Instead, he had to hold his learner's permit for 30 days.

Virginia changed its law Jan. 1, 2004, to require proof of legal U.S. residence for learner's permits, driver's licenses and identification cards.

From Virginia, Morales-Soriano went to North Carolina. There, he showed the Virginia learner's permit, proof of insurance and a tax-identification number from the Internal Revenue Service.

Until August 2006, North Carolina accepted the tax number, which is supposed to enable foreigners solely to pay federal income taxes, in lieu of a Social Security number.

"That tax number was a big loophole which allowed illegal aliens to obtain driver's licenses," said Jack Martin, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Morales-Soriano's attorney, Bradley A. Goldbloom, said that he does not know his client's immigration status, but he said that his client was interviewed by federal immigration officials.

Goldbloom has said his client will plead not guilty. Goldbloom also said that he is skeptical of the results of his client's breath test, which recorded Morales-Soriano's blood alcohol concentration as 0.32 on the night of the accident.

Experts have said that an individual's ability to handle alcohol depends on their weight and how much and how often they drink.

K. "Frank" Turban, who monitors people on probation for a drunken-driving arrest in Howard County, said that he once encountered a 19-year-old, 120-pound woman with a 0.37 blood alcohol concentration who was able to reasonably "walk the line."

"A 0.32 is high except for an alcoholic," he said. "Alcoholics can build up an incredible tolerance."

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