Local News

Trial to begin in wreck that killed 7-year-old

Posted May 8, 2009 4:33 p.m. EDT
Updated May 11, 2009 7:59 a.m. EDT

— A man who had been charged repeatedly with driving while impaired is scheduled to go to trial Monday in connection with a wreck last year that killed a 7-year-old boy.

Hipolito Hernandez, 31, of Parkertown Road in Four Oaks, is charged with second-degree murder, felony hit-and-run, felony assault, DWI, possession of a stolen vehicle, driving without a license, speeding and reckless driving in connection with the April 13, 2008, wreck that led to the death of Marcus Lassiter.

Lassiter had been playing in his grandmother's yard and was trying to cross Heath Road when he was struck and killed.

"Marcus was a very special and sweet baby," said his mother, Sheila Lassiter. "He just wanted to be happy and just wanted to play with his friends. That's all he wanted to do."

Hernandez, an illegal immigrant, had been charged with DWI four previous times when the crash occurred. Two of the charges were dismissed, one was reduced, and the fourth was pending.

"It took the death of our child in order to get this guy off the street," said Marcus' father, Greca Lassiter.

The defense attorney in both dismissed DWI cases was Lee Hatch, and the prosecutor in one was Cyndi Jaeger. They are among six people who have been charged in a Johnston County ticket-fixing case.

According to indictments, 70 dismissal forms with Jaeger's signature were filed after she left her job in September 2007. The dismissal forms were filed for clients of Hatch and three other defense attorneys. A former deputy court clerk is accused of deleting the attorneys' names from at least two cases from the courthouse computer system.

Most of the dismissals cited in the indictments were DWI cases.

The two dismissed cases against Hernandez weren't part of the criminal investigation. Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle said the charges were legitimately dropped when officers didn't show up in court to testify.

Still, Johnston County is known for its high rate of DWI dismissals, and the coincidence of Jaeger and Hatch being involved with some of Hernandez' cases has upset the Lassiter family.

A WRAL News investigation found that 46 percent of the DWI charges filed in Johnston County in 2006 were dismissed, compared with 21 percent statewide and 20 percent in neighboring Wake County.

Doyle has created a special court for DWI cases in Johnston County to help raise the conviction rate, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving volunteers recently began monitoring DWI cases in the county.

Marcus' parents said they hope DWI cases will continue to get more attention in Johnston County and that their son's spirit will be remembered in his death.

"That picture (of his death) stays in my mind every single day, every day," Sheila Lassiter said.