Did Santa Ana’s Policy on Unlicensed Drivers Contribute to 2-Year Old’s Death?

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.

In another change, a 30-day impound can be authorized when a driver has previously been cited for unlicensed driving at least once in the past nine months or twice in the past three years. Previously, it was once in the past year or twice in five years.

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?

16 Comments

  1. “The restaurant responsible for serving two men four beer buckets ought to be lawyering up right now.”

    It is more likely that the restaurant owners will be heading for the border.

  2. Funny. The post barely references immigration. Enjoy that drink at Memphis pendejo with the other gentrified crowd you love to disdain.

  3. Dan,

    Santa Ana’s decision in September was related primarily to DUI checkpoint impounds. In October State law was also changed and will go into effect in January. From a LATimes story:

    Police agencies in California will no longer be able to freely impound cars from sober but unlicensed drivers who are stopped at drunk-driving checkpoints under legislation signed Sunday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

    Under the new law written by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), if a sober driver is caught at a DUI checkpoint without a valid license, law enforcement officers must release the car to a qualified driver representing the registered owner. In cases where a legal driver is not readily available, AB 353 says, the vehicle is to be released to one later at the impound yard.

    Some Latino lawmakers have alleged that sobriety checkpoints have been misused by some cities to unfairly target illegal immigrants who do not have a driver’s license. Because cities can hold cars taken from unlicensed drivers for 30 days, the accumulated impound fees can turn out to be more than the car is worth, resulting in some drivers losing their cars.

    — Patrick McGreevy

    • Thanks Chris; there was no DUI checkpoint in this case. The driver may not have a license for a number of reasons including a previous DUI, a suspended DUI, and such. But since the new law provides an out for unlicensed drivers to get caught and only be ticketed, the new policy seems unfair. We’re taught in driver’s ed that driving is a privlidge and not a right. Santa Ana has a new policy ahead of the enactment of state law.

  4. Hey Art, since you are the master of accuracy, your New Santa Ana post has some errors.

    1. This post is not about immigration; it’s about a drunk driver and a dead 2-year old and a new law that seems to allow unlicensed drivers to get behind a wheel of a car.

    2. I do not know Matt Harper; I am not friends with Matt Harper. I have never met Matt Harper. Yes, he had a DUI in 2004 in Huntington Beach which is not Santa Ana. Perhaps you can ask your former blogger Vern Nelson about DUIs in HB and change the name of your proposed law to the Harper-Nelson law.
    3. This blog did not exist in 2004 so thank for your criticizing our failure to blog about a case that happened before the blog was started and before I started writing for it in 2006.
    4. If we are going to pull the wayback machine out, you continue to carry water for Michele Martinez who admitted to being a drug dealer to OC Metro in a 2007 story; what is the statute of limitations on personal failings Art? What is worse, Harper’s DUI, Quatch’s DUI or Martinez selling drugs?

  5. All of this can go away by sliding $9820 in South African Krugerrands under the front door of my pal and Santa Ana Planning Commissioner Sean H Mill. His mother assures us that the FBI has not installed cameras in her living room, so if you need to expand your Artist Village bar be sure to PAY SEAN a visit. He has special access to the council majority and can get you whatever you need.

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