Behind the wheel
WORTHINGTON -- After the bus crash that took the life of four children and injured others in Cottonwood Feb. 19, the driver of the minivan who allegedly caused the crash by running a stop sign falsely identified herself to authorities as Alianiss...
WORTHINGTON -- After the bus crash that took the life of four children and injured others in Cottonwood Feb. 19, the driver of the minivan who allegedly caused the crash by running a stop sign falsely identified herself to authorities as Alianiss Nunez Morales. Her real name was Olga Marina Franco, and she is suspected to be in the country illegally.
When further investigation revealed she had previously been ticketed for not having a Minnesota license using the Morales identity, the public was outraged.
On the Daily Globe Web site, comments about the accident went from heartfelt prayers for the families of the four children who had died in the crash to heated arguments about illegal immigration. Some were angry she was not turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when she got her first ticket in 2006. Some were also angry when they learned the same van, driven by Franco's boyfriend, was stopped on the same highway a month before the accident, with Franco as a passenger using the Morales identity.
For the offense in 2006 of driving without a valid license, Morales paid a $100 fine, plus $82 in fees, and was sent on her way. Most of the time, that is the way the system works.
According to Worthington Public Safety Director Mike Cumiskey, people in Worthington ticketed for not having a Minnesota driver's license are asked to identify themselves. They can use other forms of photo ID, such as a Minnesota ID card or a work ID. Cumiskey said it is up to an officer's discretion. If they can produce ID, they are cited and sent on their way with a court date to follow.
"If they can't ID themselves, we bring them back to the jail," Cumiskey added.
At the jail, if they can produce ID or pay the fine they are released after being booked. In some cases, a family member or friend can bring identifying documents or cards to the jail to get the person released. If a person cannot produce the necessary money or documents, a closer look into their background may commence. They may be put on an ICE hold if it is suspected they are illegal, but that doesn't mean ICE will come get them.
Booking the people into the jail gives the police department a chance to get biometric information such as fingerprints and photos on record.
"We were seeing people come in that had a warrant, only to find the warrant wasn't for that person," Cumiskey said. "We started booking people just to try to alleviate the problem. That way I don't have to worry about mistaken identity."
In Nobles County under the court's fine/bail schedule, a no-license ticket is treated as a petty misdemeanor with a $179 fine. If the person is driving with an invalid out-of-state license, the case will be treated as a misdemeanor and the fine goes up to $379. The court also has the discretion to treat repeat offenders more harshly.
The Worthington Police Department has handed out more than 500 citations in the past two years for the charge of no Minnesota driver's license. Most of the time, a person is pulled over because of a traffic, driving or equipment violation, but the officer discovers the driver has no valid license.
"There are a lot of reasons," Cumiskey said. "Not everyone cited for no Minnesota license is illegal."
That person could have a suspended license in another state, or could have moved to the state and still not changed their license to Minnesota after 60 days.
"Some just don't care, and some can't get a license," Cumiskey stated.