A Bolivian man charged with killing a nun in a car crash in Virginia had at least two previous drunken driving convictions and had been released twice by immigration officers who took him into custody because he was in the United States illegally.
Carlos A. Martinelly Montano, 23, was charged in Sunday's accident in Virginia's Prince William County. Sister Denise Mosier, a nun with the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia, died in the crash, and two others, Sisters Charlotte Lange and Connie Ruth Lupton, were injured. They remained in critical condition on Wednesday, a spokeswoman, Sister Glenna Smith, wrote in an e-mail.
A wake for Mosier was planned for Thursday evening and a funeral Mass and burial for Friday, both at the nuns' Bristow, Va., monastery, according to its website.
The accident occurred as the nation has become divided over how much authority police should have to check the immigration status of people they stop. Some in Virginia would like to expand that authority, similar to a tough law Arizona recently passed. That law is under review in federal court.
In a statement on their website, the nuns said they're upset that the tragedy is being politicized and "become an apparent forum for the illegal immigration agenda."
"While grieving and dealing with the death and severe injuries of our sisters, we would like to refocus attention on the consequences of drinking and driving, and on Christ's command to forgive," the nuns say in the statement.
Montano did not serve any prison time for his first drunken driving conviction in 2007 and only served a fraction of the sentence from his second conviction in 2008.
Under state laws, "potentially, he could have been taken off the street for a year, but as a practical matter that doesn't ever happen," said Paul Ebert, the Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney. "This guy got treated pretty leniently, but this is a typical disposition."
After the 2008 arrest, local officers alerted Immigration and Customs Enforcement to Montano twice. Both times, the immigration officers released Montano with orders to show up for deportation hearings and to regularly check in, which he did, said a federal law enforcement source who is familiar with Montano's criminal history, but who declined to be named because of the current crash investigation.
Homeland Security Department officials declined to comment Wednesday. They referred to a statement issued Tuesday that says Secretary Janet Napolitano is reviewing why Montano was released by ICE.
Montano is being held at the Prince William County Adult Detention Center on charges of drunken driving, involuntary manslaughter and felony driving on a revoked license. Ebert said he will ask a grand jury to indict Montano on charges of felony murder, which is an unintentional homicide committed during a felony. The charge is punishable by up to 40 years in prison.
Chris Konschak, Mothers Against Drunk Driving Virginia program manager, said people arrested for drunken driving should serve full sentences.
"We just don't want people driving drunk. We don't really care where they are from. If you are a visitor it is just as tragic. A drunk driver on the road puts us all at risk," Konschak said.