Immigration debate comes to the forefront through deadly DWI crash in Cayuga County


WEEDSPORT, N.Y. (WROC) – The national immigration debate is playing out locally through a deadly crash in Cayuga County. Sheriff’s deputies there said Heriberto Perez-Velasquez was drunk when he crashed into a tractor in Weedsport on Sunday, killing Mark Knapp.

The immigration issue arises from what happened before the crash. The suspect is an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, who doesn’t have a driver’s license. Before the crash, he also had a pending charge for an aggravated DWI arrest in Wayne County last month. At that time, police released him on with an appearance ticket. A month later, this crash happened.

This week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said no one would have died had Perez-Valasquez been detained as requested.

New York State police said they arrested Heriberto Perez-Velasquez on October 18 on DWI and other charges. Police said Perez-Velasquez didn’t have a valid ID and police contacted U.S. Customs and Border Protection to identify him. CBP said they couldn’t question him because he was intoxicated, and they asked the police to hold him until they arrived.

Troopers brought Perez-Velasquez to the Wayne County jail but were told he didn’t qualify for pre-arraignment detention. He was released with appearance tickets. The head of the Seventh Judicial District, Craig Doran, said that didn’t have to happen. He said this in a statement:

“There are no court policies which prevented Heriberto Perez-Velasquez from being brought before a judge for arraignment or from being detained pre-arraignment.”

The Wayne County Sheriff’s office agreed. They said even if this weren’t immigration related they could have held him. Their policy says:

“Police services may choose to hold an arrestee in their custody until one of the two daily prescribed centralized arraignment times occur if the arrest does not meet the requirements of this agreement.”

But state police said they don’t have their own jail cells to hold people until arraignment, again saying they were left in this case without options. Those with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, disagrees. Even though they weren’t the agency called on this, they said:

“Had Mr. Perez-Velasquez been detained by ice after his October 2019, DUI arrest, a life might have been spared. Sanctuary jurisdictions that do not honor detainers or allow us access to jails and prisons are shielding criminal aliens from immigration enforcement and jeopardizing the lives of law-abiding citizens.”

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the agency that was called and asked that he be detained, did not take a position the release. They told News 8 they stand by the state police’s statement.

Perez-Velasquez has been charged with vehicular manslaughter, DWI, and leaving the scene of an accident. He is currently being held on $50,000 bail and was back in court on Friday.

Judge Doran also said before Sunday’s crash, Perez-Velasquez was not brought before a Wayne County court for arraignment and didn’t appear in Wayne County court for any charges in the county.

The New York State Police full statement:

On October 18, 2019, at approximately 11:25 p.m., a State Trooper came upon an occupied vehicle stopped and running in the northbound lane of State Route 89 in the town of Butler. The Trooper interviewed the operator, 31-year old Heriberto R. Perez-Velasquez, who appeared to be intoxicated. The Trooper administered standard field sobriety tests, which Perez-Velasquez failed. As the Trooper attempted to place Perez-Velasquez under arrest, he ran off down Route 89. The Trooper apprehended him a short distance down the road. Perez-Velasquez was administered a breath test at SP Wolcott which registered a .22% BAC. He was charged with Aggravated DWI, an unclassified misdemeanor, Resisting Arrest, a Class A misdemeanor, and several other vehicle and traffic charges. During the course of the arrest, Perez-Velasquez was unable to produce a valid identification and admitted he did not possess a driver’s license. Troopers contacted U.S. Customs and Border Protection in an attempt to identify Perez-Velasquez. CBP could not respond to question Perez-Velasquez and requested that he be detained. Troopers transported Perez-Velasquez to the Wayne County Centralized Arraignment Processing Court at the county jail. However, Perez-Velasquez was ineligible for pre-arraignment detention under the court’s policies, and he was released to a sober third party with appearance tickets.”

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