DWI record worse than known - Oversights left man on road, in U.S. despite 5 charges

Article by Liz Chandler, Ames Alexander Danica Coto, Charlotte Observer, July 31, 2005

An illegal Mexican immigrant in North Carolina was charged with drunken driving at least five times before a July 16 wreck that killed a Gaston County teacher.

Ramiro Gallegos' driving record is far worse than authorities realized -- five impaired driving charges in five years, including one previous head-on collision.

On Friday, N.C. authorities remained unaware of two out-of-state convictions until informed by an Observer reporter.

Gallegos' history reveals glaring failures in communication, record keeping and enforcement among police, courts and immigration officials.

If the system had worked, Gallegos would likely have been sent back to Mexico in 2002, or jailed for up to two years and given intensive alcohol treatment. Each intervention would have decreased chances that Gallegos would have been on the road -- allegedly drunk again -- as teacher Scott Gardner and his family drove toward Sunset Beach....

In a previous wreck, in 2002, Gallegos crashed into an SUV in North Myrtle Beach. Another time, he was so drunk he backed into the patrol car that stopped him for driving 25 mph on a 70 mph stretch of Interstate 40....

Gallegos had a Michigan driver's license -- and that state had his record of multiple convictions nationwide. But N.C. court officials say they're so underfunded and overwhelmed with cases that phoning other states for driver histories isn't a priority.

Lack of cooperation between police and immigration officials was another obvious problem in Gallegos' case.

Gallegos was eligible for deportation each time he was arrested. He was entered in computers as an illegal alien in 2000. But immigration officials say they received no requests for information about Gallegos....

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