Harvest of death on the Eastern Shore

By Bill Burke, Virginia-Piolot, October 10, 2005

Rogue vehicles driven by unlicensed drivers have been responsible for a string of deadly accidents on the Eastern Shore. Two people were killed and two injured when this Ford Escort driven by a Hispanic farm worker ran a stop sign Oct. 1 in Accomack County.

The Ford Escort was racing north on rural Seaside Road, its occupants headed home from a wedding, when it ran a stop sign at 55 mph.

The driver of a Ford F-150 traveling east through the intersection never saw the Escort, police said.

The T-bone crash killed the driver of the Escort, Rene Leyva-Perez, and 4-year-old Daniel Salazar, who was in the back seat. Daniel’s pregnant mother, Marina Salazar, and the driver of the pickup were injured.

When police arrived, they discovered that Leyva-Perez had no auto insurance or driver’s license – only a laminated ID card issued by the tomato-packing plant where he worked – and that the car was registered to a woman in Chesapeake and had Michigan plates.


The 13 fatal accidents involving Hispanic workers on the Eastern Shore since 2002 have killed 18 people. In all but two incidents, the car that caused the accident had out-of-state plates.

Aug. 19, 2002

U.S. 13: Intoxicated migrant worker hit and killed while walking illegally on U.S. 13 at night. Plates: South Carolina.

Aug. 29, 2002

Va. 178: Car runs off road and strikes trees and pole, killing three. Plates: Tennessee.

Nov. 4, 2002

Va. 609: Driver killed when he runs into ditch, loses control and car overturns. Plates: Tennessee.

Feb. 3, 2003

Va. 187: Head-on collision kills two when driver blacks out and crosses median. Plates: Virginia.

July 24, 2003

Va. 609: Driver killed when vehicle runs off road and overturns. Plates: Florida.

Aug. 31, 2003

U.S. 13: Car with three occupants overturns, killing one; driver flees. Plates: Virginia.

Oct. 9, 2003

U.S. 13 (Business): Driver killed when he loses control of car, strikes tree then utility pole. Plates: Tennessee.

Nov. 2, 2003

U.S. 13: Driver killed when car runs off road at high speed and flips end-over-end five times. Plates: Tennessee.

Dec. 20, 2003

U.S. 13: Head-on collision involving two cars with migrant workers; driver of one dies the next day in Charlotte, N.C. Plates: North Carolina.

Dec. 24, 2003

U.S. 13: A head-on collision killed Debbie Thomas, above, a mother of three. Plates: Tennessee.

May 10, 2004

U.S. 13: Driver and passenger killed when they are thrown from one car and struck by two others. Plates: Texas.

July 22, 2004

U.S. 13: Driver killed when he loses control of vehicle and it overturns. Plates: Florida.

Oct. 1, 2005

Intersection of Va. 180 and Va. 600: Driver and child passenger killed when car runs stop sign and is broadsided by a pickup. Plates: Michigan....

In the Escort’s wreckage, they found empty cans of Modelo Especial – acclaimed in Mexico as “the elite of beers.”...

Since 2002, more than 90 people have been injured and 18 killed on the Eastern Shore in accidents involving Hispanic workers driving rogue vehicles.

The fatalities represent about one-fourth of the 71 highway deaths on the Eastern Shore in that period, even though the year-round Hispanic population makes up only 5 percent of the region’s 51,000 residents. Those numbers swell during tomato-picking season, from July through early November, when most of the fatalities occurred.

Accidents like the one on Oct. 1 have helped make the 77-mile stretch of U.S. 13 from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel to the Maryland state line one of the most treacherous highways in Virginia. In 2003, the fatality rate – deaths per miles driven – on that span of U.S. 13 was more than four times the rates on Interstates 64, 81 and 95 in Virginia.

In all but three of the fatal accidents in which Hispanics were at the wheel, the drivers had no insurance. In most cases, the vehicles had no inspection stickers, the drivers carried no license and alcohol was a factor. The vast majority of the victims in the fatalities were Hispanic....


Tennessee plates

The state of Tennessee appears to be an enabler for many of the illegal drivers.

Up and down the Eastern Shore, in the work camps and housing complexes where migrants and year-round laborers live, Tennessee plates abound. Eastern Shore law enforcers suspect there is a flourishing black market for Tennessee tags....

Tennessee does not require identification or proof of insurance when a vehicle is titled and plates are issued, as long as the motorist pays cash. Most states require identification or proof of insurance; Virginia requires both.

Tennessee state Sen. Bill Ketron said his state’s legislature has failed to close the loophole because of pressure from the powerful auto insurance industry, which he says “wants to be able to cherry-pick who they sell to,” rather than being forced to insure high-risk drivers. He plans to introduce a bill during the next legislative session, which begins in January, that would toughen titling and registration requirements....

...on the Eastern Shore, “Somebody is making it very easy for these drivers to get Tennessee tags,” Annis said. “It’s all very fishy.”

And deadly. In the 13 fatal accidents since 2002 involving Hispanic workers, six vehicles bore Tennessee tags....


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