Guatemalan arrested in crash

Illegal immigrant held in U.S. 29 hit-and-run fatal to 2 road workers

August 15, 2007|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun Reporter

A Guatemalan man who is in the United States illegally was arrested early yesterday on hit-and-run charges after a traffic accident that killed two men and injured three other highway construction workers on the side of U.S. 29 in Montgomery County, police said.

The crash, just over the Howard County line, was the latest in a series of fatal traffic accidents involving illegal immigrant drivers in Maryland. It also added two names to the list of highway workers killed in on-the-job crashes recently.

James Cronin, 37, of the 7200 block of Judy Road in Glen Burnie was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center on Monday in critical condition and died late yesterday morning, according to Officer Melanie Hadley, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Police Department.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Maryland section incorrectly identified the University of Maryland student from Ellicott City who was killed in a traffic collision in College Park in May. The student's name was Matthew Watson.
The Sun regrets the errors.

The previous day, Martin Ruffin, 30, of the 1800 block of Moreland Ave. in West Baltimore was pronounced dead at the scene of the 1 p.m. crash. Three others were taken to hospitals with injuries.

Montgomery police said the driver of a white Ford Econoline van fled on foot after plowing into a construction truck and hitting the workers, who were sitting on a guardrail taking a break.

Manuel De Jesus Gonzalez-Geronimo, 31, of Hyattsville surrendered to Prince George's County police about 12:30 a.m. yesterday, authorities said.

Gonzalez-Geronimo was turned over to Montgomery County police and charged with failure to remain at the scene of a collision involving death and bodily injury and with driving without a license, police said. At a hearing yesterday, he was ordered held without bond at the Montgomery County Detention Center.

Lucille Baur, another Montgomery police spokeswoman, said that Gonzalez-Geronimo said during the hearing that he is an undocumented worker from Guatemala.

The crash was one of several recent fatalities in Maryland in which illegal immigrants face charges.

In May, 20-year-old Mark Watson, a University of Maryland sophomore from Ellicott City, was killed in a hit-and-run crash in College Park. Police charged Never L. Navarro-Montoya, 24, an illegal Mexican immigrant who had no driver's license, with driving under the influence of alcohol, fleeing the scene of an accident and possessing a false government identification.

In November, Eduardo Raul Morales-Soriano, an illegal Mexican immigrant who lived in Laurel, was indicted on charges of manslaughter and negligent homicide while under the influence after a Thanksgiving night crash at Routes 175 and 108, records show. Jennifer Bower, 24, of Montgomery County and Marine Cpl. Brian Mathews, 21, of Columbia were killed. The trial is set for Sept. 18.

Monday's accident also provided a grim reminder of the dangers of working on Maryland's highways.

In June, State Highway Administration worker Richard W. Moser, 57, was struck and killed by a pickup truck while leading a maintenance team sweeping the shoulder of a highway ramp near Frederick.

Eight days earlier, Baltimore prison inmate James Morton-Bey, 27, died while serving on a work crew when a car ran off the inner loop of the Capital Beltway in Prince George's County and struck him.

The five highway workers in Monday's accident were employed by PDI Sheetz Construction Co., according to State Highway Administration spokeswoman Valerie Burnette Edgar. A woman who answered the phone at the Linthicum Heights company said officials there had no comment on the accident.

Burnette Edgar said the company was performing work under a contract with the state. She said that even though they were not state employees, news of the deaths "sends chills down everybody's spine" at the highway agency.

In a typical year, about 1,000 people are killed in work-zone accidents on U.S. highways. Generally, motorists account for 85 percent of the fatalities, while 15 percent -- many of them highway workers -- are non-motorists.

Last year, there were 13 fatalities in work-zone crashes in Maryland, according to the state highway agency. Over the previous five years, the numbers have fluctuated from a low of five to a high of 20.

Those injured in Monday's accident in Burtonsville were identified yesterday morning as Jose Padillo, 35, of Glen Burnie, and Columbia residents Hugo Perez, 28, and Rafael Ramos, 30.

A spokeswoman for Washington Hospital Center said Ramos was discharged yesterday. She said Perez was in fair condition.

Delores Butler, a spokeswoman for Prince George's Hospital Center, said she could find no record of Padillo having been treated there. Montgomery County police were unable to explain the discrepancy but said Padillo had been expected to survive.

A woman who answered the phone at Ramos' home and identified herself as his sister said he had suffered a head injury and was too ill to speak with a reporter.

The accident occurred in Burtonsville in the northbound lanes of U.S. 29, just north of Route 198 near the Howard County line.

Police said the Ford work van went out of control and struck one of three parked trucks on the side of the road. The impact sent the van to the right and into the five workers, police said.

The issue of drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants has become a flash point in many states, including Maryland, where the General Assembly regularly debates legislation that would close the doors of the Motor Vehicle Administration to those who can't prove their legal status. Maryland is one of eight states that issue driver's licenses to foreign-born residents regardless of their immigration status.

Immigrants' rights advocates contend that issuing licenses to illegal immigrants encourages safer driving because it subjects immigrants to testing. But critics of immigration contend that border security comes first.

michael.dresser@balltsun.com

Sun reporter Julie Scharper contributed to this article.

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