Family Of Hit-And-Run Victim Angry That Illegal Immigrant Was Never Deported

Martinez-Ruiz Had Numerous Arrests, But Immigration Was Never Notified

The family of a 32-year-old hit-and-run victim is angry after they found out that the man accused in the killing is a person who should have never been driving, or even been in the country.

Justin John Steven Goodman was killed when his motorcycle was hit by an SUV driver who fled the scene.

Justin Goodman's family is demanding answers, for themselves, and so others aren't put in danger.

"He was a very good husband, he was a really good father. He adored his family, and he had many good friends," said Carol Vizzi, Goodman's mother. "If somebody needed money, Justin was there. If somebody needed a hug or emotional counseling, Justin was there. If they needed somebody to talk to, he was there."

Goodman was riding his motorcycle through a Thornton, Colo., intersection the night of July 1, 2004 when he was struck by a Ford Explorer. The truck never stopped, sailing through 88th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. Goodman died near the curb where he was thrown by the impact. Justin's uncle called his mother to tell her the bad news.

"I don't know that I have words to describe it. It was instant horror," Vizzi said.

Thornton investigators spent months tracking down the suspect and finally arrested 33-year-old Roberto Martinez-Ruiz. His photo has not released pending witness identification.

But 7NEWS Investigators have found that since 1996, Martinez-Ruiz used six different aliases, had arrests for driving under the influence, failure to appear in court, probation violation, careless driving, driving with a revoked license, and hit and run. He has spent time in jail and in 2000, his license was revoked for five years.

"How could he possibly escape justice this many times and put out on the street where he was able to kill Justin? I mean, we were outraged," Vizzi said.

Martinez-Ruiz is also an illegal immigrant who used phony documents. And despite all the arrests, time in jail, and appearances in court, 7NEWS has confirmed that no local law enforcement agency, prosecutor or judge ever contacted federal immigration officials in Denver to have him deported.

"You should be accountable for what you've done to the system here, and then you should go back to where you came from so that you're not going to commit additional crimes here," said Bob Grant, a recently retired Adams County district attorney who now heads the State District Attorney's Council.

Martinez-Ruiz was arrested in Grant's jurisdiction but since he never committed a violent crime, no one ever bothered to inform immigration officials.

"Frankly, I don't think a lot of people are checking real hard on things like traffic tickets simply because the resources would not allow them to deal with all the people who confront the system and are not legal," Grant said.

"Anybody who goes in the court system, we should be getting contact on that," said Jeff Copp, the agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE.

He estimates there are now more than 10,000 illegal immigrants in Colorado. Even though the majority have no criminal records, he said he understands why Goodman's family is so upset.

"I'm deeply sorry. He should have been under our radar screen. We should have been contacted by state and locals with the rap sheet this guy has, and I don't know why we haven't had contact with him before," Copp said.

But even if ICE had been contacted, Martinez-Ruiz is only one of hundreds of illegal immigrants in the state who had committed nonviolent crimes. There are not enough agents to find and arrest them, or jail facilities to hold them.

Copp said that if he had the resources, he could easily go out and pick up 100 people whom he knew are illegal.

"We just don't have the space for them," Copp said.

But for those families who have suffered such a loss, such as Goodman's family, that is little consolation.

"We as a society gave him the message that he could break our laws and get away with it and continue that type of behavior and not suffer any real severe consequences for it," said Vizzi. "If people start paying attention, then maybe something can change so some other mother and some other wife and some other little girl do not have to deal with the pain and the suffering and the horror of losing somebody as precious as Justin."

Despite all the talk about the increased funding for Homeland Security, ICE in Denver simply cannot deal with low-level, nonviolent crime. They don't have the agents or the jail space, 7NEWS Investigator John Ferrugia said.

Copp and his crew are focused on busting smuggling operations, not only at the border, but here in the states, where some are assisting illegal immigrants with housing and phony documents.

The story is a microcosm of the frustration so many people, including law enforcement and judges, feel when they're dealing with the illegal immigration issue, Ferrugia said.

Have a comment about this story? Contact our 7NEWS Investigators. E-mail 7NEWSInvestigates@TheDenverChannel.com.

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