Santa Ana police have arrested an unlicensed driver, suspected of being intoxicated, when he allegedly ran a stop sign and mowed down a woman and two small children, killing a 2 year old boy. The OC Register’s Larry Wellborn has all the details of the accident and arrest here.
The driver in the case, Angel Alberto Cruz Perez of Santa Ana, had no driver’s license. He and a friend, who police say was in the passenger seat, consumed four “beer buckets” between 3PM and 6PM on November 9 at the Mariscos Ensenada Restaurant in Santa Ana. A “beer bucket” isn’t defined in Wellborn’s story, but can contain between three to six bottles of beer depending on the restauarant. After allegedly striking the family, Perez drove for another mile without stopping. Witnesses got his tags and a description of the SUV; Perez failed a field sobriety test when Santa Ana police showed up.
The restaurant responsible for serving two men four beer buckets ought to be lawyering up right now. But should the City of Santa Ana also brace for a possible lawsuit due to the city’s change in policy regarding the impounding of ?
In September, the city council and Santa Ana police changed its policy of towing cars belonging to unlicensed drivers stopped at DUI checkpoints or for other police infractions.
From the Register’s story:
The new departmental policy, outlined Tuesday at a meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, instructs officers to give an unlicensed driver 20 minutes or more to call the vehicle’s registered owner or another licensed driver to drive the vehicle away. That’s about the time it takes for a tow truck to arrive, said Deputy Chief of Police Carlos Rojas.
Police may continue to impound vehicles from unlicensed drivers who are intoxicated or suspected in other crimes.
The changes came after a group of immigrant-rights activists – the Orange County May Day Coalition – protested at a City Council meeting in May and demanded changes to the impound policy, which they said was unfair to illegal immigrants. Members of the May Day Coalition and a faith-based group, Orange County Congregation Community Organization, later met with Rojas to recommend changes to the policy.
Wellborn’s story on the tragedy doesn’t mention the immigration status of the driver or the victims, and nor should it because it is frankly irrelevant. But Perez was clearly driving as an unlicensed driver; being stopped for having too much to drink and unlicensed meant an impounded car. There are a number of ways Perez may not have a license. He may never have applied for one. It could have been revolked for an earlier violation. Or perhaps he cannot legally obtain one. There’s no indication Perez knew of the city’s policy regarding unlicensed drivers. But a two year old is dead and we have to wonder if the city’s policy shares the blame.
Santa Ana charges charges unlicensed drivers $190 for impounding a vehicle. The car’s owner must also pay towing and storage fees that can accrue to as much as $1,000 for a 30-day impound. The impound policy applies to all unlicensed drivers, regardless of immigration status. If an unlicensed driver is stopped in Tustin or Irvine or Mission Viejo, police impound your car because you’ve broken the law.
Should the city revisit this policy that allows unlicensed drivers who are caught driving without a license a free pass? Or should Santa Ana police step up enforcement of drunk drivers and the establishments that served them?
The suspect in the case, if convicted, bears most of the blame. A restaurant that continued serving excessive amounts of alcohol to two men shares some of the blame. But is the city’s policy on how it treats unlicensed drivers also a contributing factor?