Immigration advocates and attorneys have rallied behind Natividad de Jesus Hernandez, an illegal immigrant in Columbus, Ohio, who is sitting behind bars after a car accident killed his 4-year-old son.
Hernandez’s bond was posted at $500,000 for leaving the scene of a crash, making it impossible for him even to plan his son Angel’s funeral. Advocates are crying foul, seeing the high bond as a way of detaining and deporting Hernandez, 30, during his time of grief.
“This is an extraordinarily high bond in this type of case and could ... simply be a way to prevent the government from summarily deporting Mr. Hernandez out of the jurisdiction,” said Joseph Mas, a criminal defense lawyer who is chairman of the Ohio Hispanic Coalition, one of many trying to help Hernandez and his family.
“The overemphasis on immigration status is unfair,” Mas said of the undocumented El Salvador native.
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The fatal accident occurred when Hernandez, his girlfriend, their two children and Angel were on their way to steal scrap metal to sell from a local construction site. Angel either fell or got out of the van, and a work van ran him over when backing out of a driveway.
The sheriff and ambulance then arrived, and while paramedics were trying to save Angel, Hernandez and his family stayed by for a few minutes and then got back into their van and left.
Scott Culbert, Hernandez’s attorney, said the dashboard camera video shows that Hernandez was given no instructions.
Sheriff Jamie Patton said that his deputy should have made it clear to Hernandez that he was to stay at the crash site, but everyone was distracted with trying to save the child.
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“At that moment, in that instant, it’s all about saving a life,” Patton said. “I can’t fault him.”
“He’s a father whose son died on his watch,” Culbert said of his client. “This man should be pitied, not judged.”
Miscommunication was clearly a large part of the issue. Hernandez didn’t know that his actions constituted a crime.
“I got calls from people throughout the state saying there’s an issue here,” immigration activist Ruben Castilla Herrera told NBC4. “First of all it’s a language issue. It’s amazing that in Ohio in 2013 that language is an issue, getting interpreters or translators in a moment.”
“He told me ‘they just took him out of my hands. They didn’t tell me nothing, they didn't ask me his name, they just left. I waited for two minutes for an officer to come and tell me what to do. They never came,’” said Cristina Sanchez, Hernandez’s girlfriend.
Angel’s mother is in Honduras. The family does not have the means to send Angel’s body back.
“There’s no one suffering more right now than Mr. Hernandez,” Culbert said. “No matter what anyone does to him, he’s already serving a life sentence.”