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Illegal Immigrant Held in Fatal I-40 Wreck

Posted June 5, 2007
Updated June 21, 2007

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— A man in a sport utility vehicle that went through a highway median and crashed into two cars Monday was ordered held on a $1.2 million bond Tuesday.

Michael Caldera De Latorre, 24, was eastbound on Interstate 40 at about 7:15 a.m. Monday when the Chevrolet Tahoe he was driving veered across the median onto westbound I-40 near the Wade Avenue split. State Highway Patrol troopers said the Tahoe hit a blue Kia Optima, driven by 54-year-old George Alwyn Smith. Smith died in the wreck.

The Tahoe later struck a Ford Mustang driven by Carolyn Hageman, 35, of Apex. She was taken to Western Wake Hospital with minor injuries.

The Tahoe was reported stolen in Charlotte Tuesday morning, according to troopers. They are working with Charlotte authorities to get more information.

Troopers are awaiting the results of a blood-alcohol analysis from the State Bureau of Investigation, said Lt. Everett Clendenin of the Highway Patrol. But troopers said they believe alcohol was a factor in the wreck because the driver smelled of alcohol.

De Latorre, who works for a concrete company in Concord, had some form of identification with his picture on it, but he told troopers that the name on the ID wasn't his.

Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement determined De Latorre was the man's correct name. Recardo De Latorre was captured twice in April 2004 trying to cross from Mexico into California, and his fingerprints matched those of the driver in Monday's wreck, authorities said.

Immigration authorities have no record of De Latorre in the past three years, and he has no criminal record. But authorities said he might have used aliases while in the U.S., so they have no way of tracking him.

De Latorre is charged with DWI, felony death by motor vehicle, two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, no operator’s license and careless and reckless driving.

"Right now, we're just dealing with a person who's given us a name. We have no proof who this person is," Clendenin said. "It's always frustrating, but it can get really frustrating when someone's not cooperating, providing false information and there's that communication barrier."

State and local law enforcement said they need better cooperation with federal immigration agents to give them faster access to immigration information, such as the fingerprint database that identified De Latorre.

"We have a security risk. If he gets out and makes bond before we find out who he is, then we've got problems down the road," Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said. "We just have to go by the names that they give us and the identification they have, whether its fake or the right ID. We don't know."

Immigration officials said they would try to coordinate efforts more with the State Bureau of Investigation, which then could work with law enforcement agencies across North Carolina.

A passenger in the Tahoe, who identified himself as 18-year-old Roberto Castaneda, was injured in the wreck.

Castaneda doesn't face criminal charges in connection with the wreck, but authorities picked him up from WakeMed Tuesday after determining that he had been deported previously as an illegal immigrant.