Guatemalan Arrested in Crash

Michael Dresser, Baltimore Sun, August 15, 2007

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.

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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 Matthew 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.

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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.

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