Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Helen Meghan Hughes, Jennifer Elaine Carter, & Benjamin Richard Leonard

(Raleigh) News & Observer

A man charged with driving drunk and causing an accident that killed two N.C. State students and a 16-year-old near Sanford late last month is in the U.S. illegally and may be prosecuted for carrying fraudulent identification, an immigration official said.

Pastor Rios Sanchez, 55, is being held in the Lee County jail with bond set at $75,000 and a 48-hour immigration detainer after being charged with three counts of involuntary manslaughter and other charges related to the Oct. 27 head-on collision, according to law enforcement.
Helen Meghan Hughes, 22, and Jennifer Elaine Carter, 18, were pronounced dead at the scene. Hughes' stepbrother, Benjamin Richard Leonard, 16, also was in the wreck and later died at the hospital, N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper K.T. Hill said last month.

Though Rios Sanchez had a residency card, investigators now believe it was a fake, said Tom O'Connell, the resident agent in charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
O'Connell said Rios Sanchez is from the Mexican state of Guerrero, and that officials don't believe he has ever legally been in the United States.

The U.S. attorney could decide to press additional charges against Rios Sanchez for possessing counterfeit immigration papers, O'Connell said.

ICE placed an immigration detainer on Rios Sanchez so that if he does post bond, officers would have 48 hours -- excluding weekends and holidays -- to decide whether to take him into federal custody and start immigration proceedings. Before the deadly collision, Rios Sanchez had been convicted of driving without an operator's license in 2005, according to court records. He was again charged with a similar misdemeanor in March and in April. One of the charges was dismissed, but he failed to appear in Harnett County court in August, records show. However, it's unlikely that those brushes with law enforcement would have flagged him as a possible illegal immigrant, officials said. "There are hundreds and hundreds of traffic citations of people who are illegal immigrants, and as a practical matter (ICE) is not notified of each one of these," said Tom Lock, district attorney for Lee, Harnett and Johnston counties. If law enforcement organizations want to check whether someone is wanted by ICE, they can connect electronically with a Vermont-based service center that handles the queries, said Michael Gilhooly, an ICE spokesman.

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