A Howard County judge sentenced an illegal immigrant from Mexico to three years in prison Monday after the 21-year-old man pleaded guilty to two counts of negligent vehicular homicide while driving under the influence of alcohol.
Jose Rosendo Algomeda-Santiago will be deported once he serves his prison term, public defender Lou Willemin said after the sentencing. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed that.
Circuit Judge Louis A. Becker III rejected a request from the families of the two passengers killed - both of whom were Santiago's cousins - to deport him immediately.
Along with a friend, Gonzalo Gutierrez-Molina, the group was headed from a Washington club back to their Carroll County homes about 4 a.m. March 1, traveling on a snowy, icy road.
Santiago lost control of a 1995 Volkswagen Jetta belonging to Gilberto Garcia Vasquez, and the car skidded across a double yellow line on Route 32 in Dayton and crashed backward into a truck headed in the opposite direction.
The force of the collision threw Vasquez, who was sitting in the back seat, into some woods. Vasquez was pronounced dead at the scene. Another passenger, Victor Guitierrez-Almeida, was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma, where he died the next day.
Blood in alcohol
Santiago was also briefly hospitalized there with a concussion and scapular fracture. Santiago's blood-alcohol was measured at 0.09, just above the state's legal limit of 0.08.
After his arrest, U.S. immigration officials put a detainer on Santiago, meaning he was believed to be in this country illegally. Santiago was held on $1 million bond.
Several of Santiago's friends and family were in court, tearfully listening to the interpreter recount the accident. Gutierrez-Molina, who was injured in the accident, spoke on their behalf in support of Santiago.
"I feel bad. I don't believe it's his fault," said Gutierrez-Molina, a friend of Santiago.
Gutierrez-Molina said that everyone else in the group was "very drunk," and Willemin said that Santiago was the "least impaired."
Autopsies later showed that Vasquez' blood alcohol level could have been 0.37, and that both he and Guitierrez-Almeida had cocaine in their systems.
Blaming the snow
Gutierrez-Molina said that after he and Santiago got out the car, Santiago blamed the snow for causing the accident. "Damn snow," he recalled Santiago said.
Becker said that after seeing Santiago in court, the judge didn't believe Santiago's claim that he had consumed only three beers that night, two before leaving his Mount Airy residence and another at the club.
Becker said that the sentence was based in part on the fact that Santiago was over the legal limit. Becker said that he could have sentenced Santiago to up to 10 years.
Willemin said that the families of the two men who died went as far as to go through an official procedure in Mexico to "renounce any illegal act" on Santiago's part and ask for him to be deported back to his mother.
After the sentencing, Willemin explained through an interpreter to the group of Santiago's friends and family what was going to happen to him.
"It's just a sad situation," Willemin said.
Assistant State's Attorney Danielle Duclaux declined to comment.