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Driver, passenger appear in court
Police say wrecked van held illegal immigrants
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
By Chris Kirkham and Susan Finch
Staff writers
The driver and one passenger in the van filled with suspected illegal immigrants that crashed in St. Tammany Parish early Monday appeared in a federal courtroom in New Orleans on Tuesday, accused of transporting illegal immigrants.

Four passengers died in the wreck on Interstate 12 near Lacombe. The driver, who was listed in court documents as Ricardo Moreno-Monarrez, of San Antonio, Texas, and one of the passengers, David Villareal-Zuniga, of Mexico, are being held by the U.S. Marshal's Office. If convicted, the men could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Louis Moore Jr. ordered that public defenders be appointed for both men, but no attorneys were named Tuesday.

Officials from the consul's office in Houston were unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Although both men were released from local hospitals Monday, Villareal-Zuniga appeared to have a hospital gown on underneath his shirt and Moreno-Monarrez had a bandage on his head. The two answered questions through an interpreter.

The wreck occurred when a pickup driven by Glenn P. Richard, 47, of Crowley, rammed the back of the van after he apparently fell asleep at the wheel, according to State Police. The collision caused the van, which was carrying 17 suspected illegal immigrants and Moreno-Monarrez, to spin out of control and slam into a tree.

Four people died and 14 people were sent to local hospitals with injuries.

Crowley was booked in the St. Tammany Parish jail with three counts of negligent homicide, three counts of negligent injury and careless driving, police said. Charges are pending for an additional count of negligent homicide.

,Seven passengers are still hospitalized, said Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. One was listed in guarded condition at Lakeview Regional Medical Center. The others were in stable condition.

The other survivors, were being held by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency as officials investigate the case.

State Police said Moreno-Monarrez, 31, is from San Antonio, Texas. Immigration officials said they think he is a U.S. citizen. An official with the Bexar County Sheriff's Office in Texas, which includes the San Antonio area, said Moreno-Monarrez had no previous charges there. Attempts to reach his family members were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Trooper Kevin Allen, spokesman for State Police Troop L, said Monday's accident shows that the I-12 corridor is a major pipeline for cross-border illegal activity of all sorts.

"It's just logistics: The road is a major thoroughfare that goes from east to west," Allen said. "By the nature of us being in the south and our orientation to the border, it's just a natural occurrence." Allen said Border Patrol agents commonly patrol the I-12 corridor.

The wreck is an example of why U.S. immigration policy needs reform, said two officials from Washington-based immigrant advocacy groups.

"There's been such a buildup at the border in the last few years," said Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum. "People are taking more and more dangerous routes to cross the border, and once they're here, what they paid for will include transportation to different parts of the country."

Kelley said her group supports stricter penalties for those who transport illegal immigrants, but she said penalties fail to address the larger issue of why so many people are illegally immigrating.

"This is a problem that's much bigger than what local prosecutors can do," she said. "People are coming in illegally because there aren't legal channels to come here."

Judy Golub, senior director of advocacy and public affairs with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, agreed that the smuggling of illegal immigrants points to a larger problem within the system.

"Smuggling happens because our system is broken, and the people most victimized by smugglers are the undocumented workers who are coming in," Golub said.

Both Golub and Kelley said that once the deportation process begins, most illegal immigrants have few chances to contest being deported and typically are not represented by an attorney.

A detention hearing for Villareal-Zuniga and Moreno-Monarrez will be held Friday at 10 a.m.

Will ICE do anything w/ the illegals from the crash? I bet once the media drops the story, ICE will drop its interest in these guys. Why bother w/ them. They are of no importance until they run over a PO or commit a felony.
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