Local News

Illegal Immigrant Pleads Guilty in Fatal I-40 Wreck

Posted November 15, 2007 3:30 p.m. EST
Updated November 15, 2007 9:35 p.m. EST

— An illegal immigrant who was driving drunk and veered across a highway median, slamming into two cars during the morning commute and killing a Cary man, pleaded guilty Thursday.

Ricardo De Latorre, 24, pleaded guilty to two counts of felony assault involving seriously bodily injury and one count of felony death by a motor vehicle in the June 4 death of George Alwyn Smith, 54.

Through a translator, he apologized Thursday before being sentenced to 25 to 39 months in prison and deportation after his sentence.

Smith was on his way to Duke University, where he worked as a computer programmer, at about 7:15 a.m. when the Chevrolet Tahoe that De Latorre was driving east veered across the median onto westbound Interstate 40 near the Wade Avenue split in Raleigh and hit Smith's car.

The Tahoe later struck another vehicle, injuring Carolyn Hageman, 35, of Apex.

"I will never forget what it sounded like when I was hit – the metal crushing or the horrid smell of the airbag when it deployed," Hageman said Thursday.

Wake County Assistant District Attorney Adam Moyers said De Latorre's blood alcohol concentration at a local hospital was 0.14 and that De Latorre admitted he had been drinking the night before the accident.

De Latorre was captured twice in April 2004 trying to cross from Mexico into California. His fingerprints helped determine his identity.

He has no prior criminal convictions, but authorities have said he might have used aliases while in the United States and that there was a three-year period in which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcements had no record of him.

Smith's family and friends were in court for Thursday's proceedings, carrying photos of him.

They described him as a man who touched many lives in a way he never talked about publicly.

"After he died, there were people who would come up to me and tell me, like in the video, 'He came over with a car full of stuff after my house burned down,'" his son, Chris Smith, said.