Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sixty Seconds To Tragedy

I can't imagine that the whole terrible incident lasted more than sixty seconds. It happened while driving home from work on familiar roads. It was dark. It had been raining. Then ... a terrible sound. A sickening realization. Panic, and then a bad decision that worsened an already gruesome tragedy. No more than sixty seconds.

I have no idea what really happened on the 25th of November. I do know that Ruth Ann Storm was killed on the 100 block of 7th street. She was walking home a little before 1 am on a Sunday morning. She was walking on the west side of 7th street as shown in this photo. The side without sidewalks. I also know that Ruth Ann Storm left a teen aged son, who is now an orphan because he recently lost his father. The
Laurel Leader provides more details.

Last week I learned that Rodolpho Esau Ramirez-Grijalva confessed to hitting Ruth Ann Storm. He confessed to fleeing the scene two and half weeks after concocting a false story saying that he was not driving his car that night. He was
arrested and charged with multiple violations including hit and run and lying to police officers. If he is convicted, he will likely go to jail. He will then leave his one month old child and his wife. His wife and some associates may also be charged for their attempts at helping him to cover up the crime.

Rodolpho Esau Ramirez-Grijalva has a valid Maryland driver's license. His car is properly registered. He has the state-required automobile insurance. He is also an illegal immigrant.

Laurel Deputy Police Chief Rich McLaughlin said at last week's press conference that if Ramirez-Grijalva had remained at the scene of the accident, his citizenship status would not have been questioned.

I was confused about the ability of an illegal alien obtaining a valid driver's license in Maryland. A quick call to our Maryland State
Delegate Ben Barnes set me straight. It also gave me a deeper appreciation of the issue. According to Delegate Barnes, Maryland's motor vehicle law does not require proof of citizenship. Maryland only requires proof of identity to get a driver's license.


Part of me wants to build tall fences, deport all the illegal immigrants, and get tough. We are a land of laws and these people have broken our laws. Part of me is appalled that my state would grant a driver's license to an illegal alien. That part of me wants to go to Annapolis and grab our delegation and shake them until they pass tough immigration laws that stop illegal aliens.

But there is another part of me that is more confused than indignant. Is illegal immigration responsible for this tragedy? Do I really want to make it impossible for illegals to get a license and car insurance? With a license, at least they will pass a driver's test and have enough insurance to pay for my crushed bumper or worse, for my medical bills. What good will come from making those protections impossible? Will it keep illegals from driving?

Most illegals immigrate to America for the same reasons as my own ancestors. To take the dirtiest, most dangerous, most unpleasant and exploitative jobs available, for the lowest wages. My ancestors plunged into Pennsylvania coal mines and stoked Youngstown's blast furnaces. They were happy for any job and hopeful for the opportunity of a better life for their children. If we want to stop immigration, we only need to make it impossible for illegals to get jobs.

But of course it's not the same. My ancestors arrived legally in America. But that's not the most important difference between then and now.

I think the most important difference today is that many immigrants are reluctant to assimilate. My ancestors wanted to become American. Their native language was Slovak. Learning English was demanded. Slovak was never spoken around the children, except to conceal "adult" discussions. Spanish speaking immigrants today don't seem to have the same desire or need to learn English.

I guess my long-term advice to our delegates is to continue to allow anyone in Maryland to get a driver's license without proof of citizenship. However, I do want to change the current law so that everyone must pass a written and spoken English language test at the 7th grade level before getting a license. I believe that this will not only make them safer drivers, it may help all immigrants more quickly assimilate, thereby increasing their opportunities for a better life for their children.


I keep putting myself in Ramirez-Grijalva's shoes. If I was an illegal immigrant, would I be frightened to talk to the police after an accident? Especially if I could not speak any English?

His panic was understandable but I'm not condoning his crime. He confessed to leaving the scene of an accident. He may have been able to provide aid. He lied to the police.

We will never know, but maybe if he spoke a little English his decision might have been different that night. Sixty seconds is a long time.

I know that this is an important issue and many of you have strong opinions. I welcome and encourage your comments.


Dave Crawford said...


These are complicated issues, however, your insight cuts right through all the tomfoolery and provides practical, common sense solutions. Not bad for a lifelong bureaucrat who makes great cheesecake. Thanks for all you do for the City, Rick.

----Dave Crawford

Rick Wilson said...

Thanks Chief and welcome home. Congratulations for completing the FBI's National Police Academy at Quantico.

Anonymous said...

I have lived in a state with a large migrant worker population where it is hard to get a driver's license. Accidents with unlicensed, uninsured drivers, and where the identity of the driver is hard to determine are VERY common. Many cars are registered out of state or use invalid plates. Maryland's policy means we actually had a much greater chance of tracking down the driver - and discovering his real identity. I feel much safer when the state makes a license available to all. I feel I am safer, and our community is safer, when immigrants can interface with police without a fear of immigration issues. Imagine seeing, or being a victim of a crime and being afraid to call the police? You could be sure of getting deported in the recent car accident, even if the incident was not your fault. It might provoke people to run.

Given that we're asked for ID in this new era at nearly every turn, a license is practical. I use my US passport as backup ID, and it has been refused - frontline clerks don't know what it us. Imagine if it were in another language! And definitely we've gone through periods where nondriver IDs are looked at suspiciously...at one point I remember seeing signs that some businesses posted they were not acceptable as ID either.

Everyone has to pass a test of basic road competency - written and practical. I don't know how English skills make you a better or worse driver? People who learn to drive as adults to me seem to learn more slowly, that's true - so it seems like immigrants are a lot if the novice drivers. Our increasing urbanization means more people I know aren't learning to drive until their 20's - so the perception of the novice older driver may change over time. I can't tell you how many native-born drivers I see every day who can't manage a traffic circle. They speak english fine...I can't see that it helps.

Anonymous said...

second post, since I was getting longwinded

We romanticize prior immigration waves - and we forget how much they were discriminated against. Before jets and cellphones, you left your home country and never exchanged more than a letter again - and still, even in circumstances where foreigners had very few rights, there were people who lived in isolation because they couldn't learn the language. I don't think it was always "didn't want to."

Virtually no Americans are bilingual, yet we're so vehement that other people are. Language is hard for me to learn. I think of how I would do in a new country, and it gives me some compassion.

A good time to ask when we'll have more and better language emphasis in school? No child left behind certainly hasn't reformed that. I'd like my kids to learn another language - competently. Not just how to count to 10 and name the colors. (French immersion is our only county choice and has a lottery entry.) One of my children wants to learn Chinese, for instance. We do a bad job for ESL kids, too.

Lisa said...

I would favor allowing persons entering the country illegally to obtain licenses and registration. We're all safer that way. The problems stem from the use of a driver license as a national ID. It shouldn't be. Let the federal government issue IDs that include immigration status checks.

Barney Walsh said...

A person's status as a "citizen" or "resident" is not an issue in this terrible event. The driver may or may not have had a license and it would have occurred. But, the ability to drive a car properly is the issue!

A second and totally different issue is what are the state requirements to obtain a license. Shame on the state government for having such a requirement which includes mere ""proof" of identity."

Anonymous said...

I think Rick's point about immigrants passing an English test to get a driver's license was that this would be an incentive for them to learn English, not that it would make them better drivers.

Previous groups of immigrants to America have come largely legally and have wanted to assimilate. Those are major differences with the situation today. They did not expect Americans to learn their language in order to accomodate them. Yes, Americans should be more fluent with foreign languages and yes, our children should be learning those languages in elementary school, not just in high school in order to achieve that. However that is different than moving to another country to live permanently and raise a family. Were I to do that, I would make every effort to learn the language of my new country and expect my children to do the same. Best way to do that? Immersion! That's how they learn the language most quickly and accurately.

Christopher M. Pohl said...

The tragic facts in this case underly much of the nonsense of the "immigration debate."

The fact that the perpetrator here was an illegal alien is about a relevant as the fact that he is a human being. He made a very bad and tragic decision that night and that is what makes him accountable for his action/inaction.

Having spent 25 years as an immigration "enforcer" I slowly learned a simple and obvious lesson--human beings have been migrating since the dawn of time. Most of us tend to ignore this. We do it for all kinds of reasons. It is only when we get economically comfortable and a bit lazy that we tend to settle down.

Granting or not a granting driver license will not solve the "immigration problem" and it won't bring anyone "out of the shadows either."

Many countries have built "walls" to keep people in or out. Simple history has shown us how unsuccessful that approach is. We even wail against others that do it. Yet, we continue to spend hundreds of millions on such folly.

Sure, every nation has the right to control its borders but there is more to that than technology and fences.

Sadly, most of the debate is rooted in fear, ignorance, and intolerance of anyone who looks or sounds different (but we don't mind having them build our houses, cut our grass, or wash dishes in unseen restaurant kitchens).

Memory draws a veil over the fact that even our ancestors were once "different" and our own nostalgia belies what they really faced and it most likely was not as noble as we would like to believe.

We want "them" all to assimilate but only if they dress, act, and talk like us. Oh, if it were only that simple for them and us.

There are no easy solutions to this complex problem. Heck, you'd think after 25 years of personally and professionally working this problem, I would have fixed it.

I guess it will take all of us working together to find reasonable, compassionate, and wise solutions.


Christopher Pohl