Illegal Immigrant In Custody After Weekend Accident

Monday, March 26th 2007, 5:08 pm
By: News On 6

A 2-year-old is not expected to live after Tulsa Police say a drunk driver ran a red light and slammed into the SUV he was riding in. The News On 6’s Heather Lewin reports investigators are calling the accident another example of what they're seeing all too often on Tulsa streets, drunk drivers, with no license or insurance that are in this country illegally.

"We see that on a routine basis," said Tulsa Police Sergeant Rick Bondy.

Tulsa Police arrested 34-year-old Jose Juan Lopez at the scene Saturday. Officers say Lopez ran a red light at 36th Street North and Lewis Avenue and crashed his Ford Explorer into a Chevy Suburban that was driving through the intersection.

The Tulsa County jail says Jose Lopez was able to bond out of jail over the weekend.

Monday, federal authorities announced that they were looking for Lopez. That evening, Lopez was picked up at an Owasso business and is now being held by immigration officials in Oklahoma City.

"Because they're unlicensed and uninsured, that's a concern to anyone in a collision with them," said Bondy.

Sergeant Bondy says people in the country illegally usually don't have the legal paperwork to drive. It’s a problem for local police because TPD supervisors say officers are caught between city jurisdiction and federal law. Officers can arrest someone suspected of a crime, and if they think the person is here illegally they call immigration, but unless the charges are very serious, or the government requests a hold on the person, the suspect can post bond and be released, which is what Lopez did.

"And for all practical purposes, they're treated like anybody else," Bondy said.

Meanwhile, Tulsa Police say it wasn't just the actions of the illegal driver that may cost the boy his life. The 2-year-old was not strapped into a car seat or safety belt, said officers. In fact, police say no one in the car that was hit was wearing a seatbelt.

"Why, I mean it takes two seconds to buckle somebody in or put them in a car seat, and you don't have to go through intensive care or critical injuries," Bondy said.

In the past, Tulsa Police policy was not to ask for proof of citizenship, but that is currently being revised. Soon, officers who suspect illegal status will ask, then call the feds. Plus, a major immigration reform bill is currently in the state legislature. The bill, among other changes, would allow some local police to enforce federal immigration law.