Fatality defendant skipped out after bond reduction
Now Luis Alberto Rodriguez is a fugitive.
Rodriguez was charged with three felonies and DUI after a crash at a malfunctioning traffic light killed a visitor from Lenoir on Oct. 5.
His Chevy Lumina collided with a pickup driven by Paul Davis at the intersection of Colington Road and U.S. 158 in Kill Devil Hills. Police say Rodriguez ran through a flashing red light.
The pickup flipped, killing passenger Joseph Storie, 51. Two other passengers in the truck — Storie’s wife and sister — were hurt. Rodriguez was also injured and was taken to a Norfolk hospital.
While it is still not clear why a judge reduced his bond on felony charges earlier this year, a search warrant request filed by Kill Devil Hills police Capt. Gene Johnson and other court documents provide details of events before and after his disappearance.
Following the crash, Rodriguez was charged with one count of felony death by vehicle, two counts of serious injury by vehicle and one count of driving while impaired. The crash drew significant attention because it happened hours after the traffic signal had malfunctioned.
Johnson’s narrative describes Rodriguez’s hospitalization in Virginia “for several days.” After the charges were filed, he wrote, Rodriguez “received assistance in leaving the Virginia hospital and did not return to his home in Dare County.”
Acting on information from the Dare County Sheriff’s Office, local law enforcement had reason to believe Rodriguez was in the Raleigh area. They enlisted the aid of the Raleigh police department as well as the U.S. Marshals Service.
Rodriguez was soon located and returned to Dare County pending further court proceedings.
On Jan. 12, 2012, a bond reduction hearing was held in Dare County before Judge J. Carlton Cole. Rodriquez’s original bonds were set at $60,000 secured for the felony death charge, and $40,000 secured for the combined serious injury charges.
The driving while impaired charge was dropped after a grand jury returned indictments, as the other offenses were more serious.
In late 2011, a bond reduction hearing had been held before District Court Judge Edgar Barnes. Barnes said no.
A review of the case file at the Dare County Courthouse shows an entry by Kill Devil Hills police saying that when Rodriguez was caught in Raleigh he was “attempting to abscond to Honduras.”
The court documents also show that Rodriguez was in the United States on an expired visa and was considered an illegal immigrant.
Still, Cole reduced the secured bonds by half, for a total of $50,000 on the three pending charges. Rodriguez put up the secured portion of his bond through an Elizabeth City bond firm, Gregory Bail Bonds.
Typically, a bail bondsman will put up 15 percent of the secured bond and is responsible for forfeiture of the entire amount if his client fails to show for court.
Cole also added unsecured bond amounts of $150,000 for the combined charges. But unsecured bonds do not require a deposit for release of the defendant.
Assistant District Attorney Christen Simmons said she could not comment on the case.
But Storie’s sister, Chris, said she has attended all of the hearings related to the case. A resident of Lenoir, about seven hours from the Outer Banks, Storie said she was told about the January bond reduction hearing the night before.
She drove through the night to get to the hearing, she said. Rodriguez, who originally was assigned a public defender, had hired another lawyer for the bond hearing, she said.
The argument presented for reducing bond, Storie said, revolved around Rodriguez’s need to work to support his family and pay his legal fees.
On April 23, Rodriguez was scheduled to appear on the three remaining charges. But he failed to show up. Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett increase the secured bond to $300,000 — $100,000 on each charge.
The KDH police department turned its focus on locating Rodriguez. The warrant request says the department “learned Rodriguez had left his home in the Colington modular area and had not been seen for a number of days prior to the scheduled court date.”
Rodriguez’s landlord also confirmed to the Kill Devil Hills Police Department that “several persons in the modular section reported that Mr. Rodriguez had not been seen there in some time and it was well known he had left the area.”
The day after the missed court appearance, the document states, a citizen called police to say a woman had borrowed her van the previous Sunday and failed to return it.
The caller told police that the woman “had left the area with Luis A. Rodriguez.”
According to the warrant request, several cell phone conversations between the owner of the van and the woman revealed that she and Rodriguez were in Norfolk. The woman wanted to send money to buy the van and asked the title be sent to an address in Georgia.
The owner of the van did not wish to sell the vehicle and offered to meet the woman at the North Carolina/Virginia state line, an offer that was refused, according to the warrant request.
The KDHPD entered Rodriguez into the National Criminal Center data base as a wanted person. Inquiries were also made to the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency (ICE) to determine if Rodriguez had been detained “due to his illegal status.”
The warrant asks that Verizon Wireless turn over all information on calls and communications from the woman’s phone number in hopes it will lead to Rodriguez’s whereabouts. It was signed by Tillett on May 4. A previous warrant signed by Tillett helped police find Rodriguez in Raleigh by tracking his cell phone.
The Voice relayed a question to Cole via the Superior Court asking for reasons why he reduced the bond amount given the seriousness of he charges, the immigration status of the defendant and the fact the case file alleges Rodriguez had attempted to flee on a prior occasion.
Cole was hearing a murder trial outside of the court district and had not responded as of this writing.
Rob Morris contributed to this story.
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