An illegal immigrant from Mexico, driving a stolen sport utility vehicle, crashed head-on into a car and killed a man
The state Highway Patrol says that Michael De Latorre, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, was driving a stolen sport utility vehicle when he crossed the median on Interstate 40 on Monday morning and crashed head-on into a car, killing George Smith of Cary.
But federal immigration officials say De Latorre's fingerprints suggest his real name is Ricardo Contreras, whose last run-in with them came in April 2004 when he was twice arrested at the California-Mexico border while trying to enter the country illegally. And Charlotte police say they're no longer sure the Chevrolet Tahoe he was driving was stolen.
Despite the confusion, the man charged with causing the accident remains in the Wake County jail in lieu of $1.2 million bail while Smith's family gathered in a neighbor's home Tuesday to discuss funeral arrangements and reminisce about the man they all said lived for helping others.
"I really wish he had spent a little more time on himself," said Bill DeWeese, Smith's partner of more than 17 years, who arrived Tuesday from Virginia Beach, where he is an English professor at Tidewater Community College.
Smith, 54, a computer programmer at Duke University, was heading to work in the westbound lanes of I-40 shortly after 7 a.m. Monday when the Tahoe slammed into his car and then hit a silver Ford Mustang behind him driven by Carolyn Hageman, 35, of Apex. Hageman was not seriously injured.
The driver of the Tahoe, who told the Highway Patrol his name was Michael De Latorre, appeared in court Tuesday to face several charges, including driving while impaired, felony death by motor vehicle and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon. When Wake County District Court Judge Shelly Desvousges asked him through an interpreter whether he was indeed Michael De Latorre, he replied "Si."
The judge kept his bail at $1.2 million because prosecutors said he might flee the area if released.
Investigators with U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement in Wake County said the man may be Ricardo Contreras, who was apprehended twice at the California-Mexico border while trying to enter the U.S. illegally. The first incident occurred April 4, 2004, said Tom O'Connell, resident agent in charge of ICE's Raleigh office. Days later, immigration agents apprehended Contreras again; both times he voluntarily returned to Mexico, O'Connell said.
O'Connell said ICE placed a detainer on Contreras, meaning he faces deportation after his criminal case is settled.
A passenger in the Tahoe, who told the Highway Patrol his name is Roberto Castaneda, was not charged. But immigration officials picked him up Tuesday after his release from WakeMed, determining he, too, is in the U.S. illegally. O'Connell said his name is Baudel Alvarez Castaneda and that he was deported from Laredo, Texas, in October 2000.
Meanwhile, in Charlotte, a police detective noticed that the owner of the Tahoe had said it was stolen from his home nearly 12 hours after the accident in Cary. According to a report filed Tuesday at 8:51 a.m., Manuel Gaucin-Amezquita said his SUV was stolen between 7 p.m. Monday and about 8:45 a.m. Tuesday morning.
Detective Andre Briggs said he is looking into the possibility that Gaucin-Amezquita filed a false report.
"I'm not saying it is," Briggs said. "But just looking at the times makes it very questionable."
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