Dan Mattle and his wife, Terri, don’t consider themselves especially political.
But when critics hammered Alabama’s new immigration act as mean-spirited and racist, the south Huntsville couple decided to speak up in support of the Republican-sponsored bill.
In late June, Dan Mattle made his first appearance on talk radio and wrote his first letter to the editor.
GOP legislators are “making up for the fact that the federal government is derelict in its (immigration enforcement) duty,” he said this month. “None of these laws would have passed if they’d been doing their job.”
Immigration became a deeply personal issue for the Mattles just before 9 p.m. on April 17, 2009.
Their oldest son, Tad, was stopped in traffic at the busy intersection of Whitesburg Drive and Airport Road when Felix Dominguez Ortega, an undocumented resident fleeing from Huntsville police, slammed into the back of Tad’s Toyota Supra.
Police estimated Ortega’s pickup truck was traveling nearly 70 miles an hour; no skid marks were found.
Tad, a 19-year-old Eagle Scout who had just earned a full academic scholarship to the University of Alabama in Huntsville, died in the fiery crash along with his girlfriend, Grissom High School sophomore Leigh Anna Jimmerson.
Ortega, with a blood-alcohol content more than three times the legal limit, survived.
“Everyone calls it an accident,” Mattle said. “But that was no accident–it was a murder scene.”
A native of Mexico, Ortega eventually pleaded guilty to reckless murder and is serving a 15-year sentence at Bibb County Correctional Facility.
Municipal court records show that Ortega had three prior drunk-driving arrests in Huntsville under another name, Juan Sanchez. Police say he also used the aliases Adan Herrera and Reynaldo Martinez.
Mattle, 46, said he hopes Alabama’s immigration law will deter criminals like Ortega from sneaking across the border.
Tad had things planned out.
His 32 ACT score had earned him a four-year scholarship to UAH, where he would major in mechanical engineering. Afterward, he would open his own auto body repair shop, maybe go on a Mormon mission to Germany.
He and Leigh Anna seemed destined to marry.