By Russ Lay on December 14, 2012
The assistant district attorney, Christen Simmons, went on the offensive right from the start.
Simmons pushed aside concerns over the differing blood alcohol levels from the two hospitals, noting the sample taken at The Outer Banks Hospital shortly after the accident that killed Joe Storie in Kill Devil Hills indicated levels above the legal limit.
She also disputed defense claims that Rodriguez was a legal resident, arguing that while it appeared he was here on a temporary work visa obtained before Sept. 11, 2000, the state’s documents revealed he was no longer a legal resident and was subject to deportation depending on the outcome of the case.
Simmons then recounted how Rodriguez had left Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, where he had been taken for treatment after the accident, unnoticed. Officers were “standing outside the door,” she said, but neither Virginia nor North Carolina authorities were aware he had left.
Next, she cast doubt on his lack of “means,” noting he had hired an attorney even though he had already been assigned a public defender.
Rodriguez faced charges of one count of felony death by vehicle, two counts of serious injury by vehicle and one count of driving while impaired after a crash that killed Storie, a visitor from Lenoir, N.C.
The October 2011 crash happened at the intersection of Colington Road and U.S. 158, where a malfunction had put the traffic signal in flashing mode.
Simmons discounted the malfunctioning light, stating “there is going to be video evidence that clearly shows Mr. Rodriguez not stopping at a flashing yellow light, going straight through the light.”
Rodriguez drove into the intersection from Colington Road, where the light was flashing red.
The Storie family was concerned that Simmons told the court the light was flashing yellow rather than red, but Simmons pressed her case on other points raised by Phillip Hayes, Rodriguez’s attorney.
Hayes had said Rodriguez left Sentara Norfolk General Hospital while arrest warrants were out to recuperate in Raleigh and begin making money to support his family.
Citing Hayes’ contention that Rodriguez was having marital issues, Simmons said, “he is obviously estranged from that family so I’m not sure how much supporting of that family he’s doing.”
And then she told the judge “that he is a flight risk.”
“The State, if anything, would be asking Your Honor to increase the bond,” she said. “He obviously has some means, as he’s hired Mr. Hayes.”
And then came her strongest statement:
“I feel like that very seldom am I able to stand here in front of the Court and say I have evidence of a flight risk.”
She recounted the details of the accident — one dead at the scene, two seriously injured and airlifted to Norfolk, telling the court:
“It was very clear that this was a very serious accident. I think regardless of what your language barrier is, you know that there’s some sort of repercussions from this accident.”
Simmons again used the phrase “high flight risk” in reminding the judge he had fled the hospital in Norfolk and that a “task force” had to be assembled to locate and bring Rodriguez back to Dare County.
In her conclusion, she once more asked the judge to maintain or raise the bond amounts on Rodriguez to ensure he appeared for his trial and directed the judge’s attention to Chris Storie and Joe Storie’s widow seated in the courtroom.
At this point, during a break in the trial, Chris Storie says she became concerned with the way the hearing was heading.
Her concerns were well founded. When Judge J.C. Cole returned, he essentially reduced the bonds by half.
The original bonds totaled $100,000 secured for all three counts. Cole reduced the secured portion of those bonds to $50,000 for the three felonies but added $150,000 in unsecured bond amounts.
The unsecured portion of the bonds does not require deposits or collateral from a bail bondsman. Typically, a defendant must stake 15 percent of the total secured amount with a bondsman to be freed.
The Storie family was reeling from shock at this point.
While the judge went over Rodriguez’s bond terms — Rodriguez was not to leave his premises except for work-related activities, was not to consume or possess alcohol and would be subject to warrantless searches — the Storie family asked if Rodriguez could be fitted with an ankle monitor.
Simmons relayed the request to Cole, who responded that he no longer believed “we have a provision for pretrial monitoring” and cited a case in Currituck where a judge’s order for such monitoring was not carried out “and there were repercussions coming down because of that.”
Cole reiterated that he stipulated Rodriguez was not to be away from his residence.
But a mere court order did not assure his appearance for trial, much less confine him to Dare County.
Next: Rodriguez posts bail, then disappears.