Omaha woman just graduated from college, killed by illegal alien drunken driver.
Sarah Root, 21, had just graduated from college hours earlier, when she was hit and killed by an illegal drunken driver, who was driving without a license, with a blood-alcohol content of three times the legal limit. He was graded as “low risk to flee” and released on $5,000 cash bail.
Courtesy of DHS Secretary Jey Johnson.
Sarah Root is dead.
Eswin Mejia is missing. And authorities are scrambling to answer how the 19-year-old accused drunken driver went missing just days after his arrest in Root’s death.
A World-Herald review of Mejia’s case shows a systemic failure — from county pretrial release staff to the county judge to federal immigration enforcement officials — to ensure that the man charged with felony motor-vehicle homicide in Root’s death would answer in court to the charge.
“He’s gone,” a law enforcement official told The World-Herald.
He’s gone because of a lack of communication and common sense among governmental agencies, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said.
His legal status — both in terms of U.S. citizenship and as a charged criminal — has prompted legal observers to question why the federal Immigration Customs Enforcement agency failed to place a hold on Mejia.
Shawn Neudauer, a spokesman for ICE, said that Mejia’s Jan. 31 arrest “did not meet ICE’s enforcement priorities” as stated in a November 2014 federal memo issued by Jeh C. Johnson, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
“Due to limited resources, DHA and its components (including ICE) cannot respond to all immigration violations or remove all persons illegally in the United States,” Johnson wrote. The memo prioritizes detention and removal for those with felony convictions; it does not specifically authorize an immigration hold simply based on a felony arrest.
In Mejia’s case, ICE said in a statement: “Mejia, 19, of Honduras, did not meet ICE’s enforcement priorities … because he had no prior significant misdemeanor or felony conviction record. As such, ICE did not lodge a detainer.
Start with the crime: Omaha police allege that Mejia was drunk and street racing on L Street when he rammed into the back of a vehicle driven by Root.
Root died at the Nebraska Medical Center just hours after she graduated from Bellevue University with straight A’s and a degree in investigations. Prosecutors say Mejia’s blood-alcohol content was .241, three times the legal limit of .08.
A week after the crash, Mejia posted bail and skipped a urine test. Officials can’t find him.
The World-Herald review of court records found the following missteps:
» Mejia, who was listed on his jail booking sheet as from Honduras and not a U.S. citizen, was graded a low risk to flee by Douglas County pretrial release officials, despite the fact that he had a warrant and twice had failed to appear in court. On a scale of 1 to 7 — the higher the number, the more risk of fleeing — the county’s pretrial release staff graded Mejia a 2.
» On Feb. 4, Douglas County Judge Jeff Marcuzzo set Mejia’s bail at 10 percent of $50,000 — meaning that Mejia had to post $5,000 cash to be released. The newspaper’s review of 10 motor vehicle homicide cases filed in Nebraska over the past two years showed that five judges set the same bail amount. Five other judges set higher bail amounts — 10 percent of $75,000, $250,000 (twice) and $500,000 (twice). All of the other defendants were U.S. citizens.
» It’s not clear whether the judge was informed of Mejia’s immigration status. Deputy Omaha Police Chief Dave Baker said late Friday that an accident investigator informed Deputy Douglas County Attorney Matt Kuhse of Mejia’s ICE status before Mejia was released from Nebraska Medical Center.
(Read more details at Omaha World Herald)