Unlicensed Driver Cited In Accident, Keeps Driving

Police Say Accident Victim Could Be Charged For Following Unlicensed Driver To Prove She's Driving

A woman who was severely injured in a traffic accident found the woman cited in the accident still driving without a license. But when she complained to police, officers did little to get the driver off the road and told the woman she could be arrested for harassing the unlicensed driver, a CALL7 Investigation uncovered.

“I had gone to the emergency room, and after multiple X-rays they found out I had chest contusions, and I had asked, 'What about my head?' Because my head was still hurting,” said Diana, who asked her last name not be used. “More than week had gone by without them knowing I had a brain hemorrhage.”

A Lakewood police report says Diana and her husband were turning south on Wadsworth Boulevard from Jewell Avenue on Sept. 10 when their Nissan Pathfinder was struck by a minivan driven by Martha Hernandez-Fuerte, 24, of Denver.

Hernandez-Fuerte was cited for failure to stop at a red light and driving without a license, but police did not tow the vehicle Hernandez-Fuerte was driving or arrest her. Hernandez-Fuerte’s only identification was a Mexican passport, and she told police she had lived in the U.S. for six years, records show.

District Attorney's Office Makes Plea Deal

Following the accident, Diana called Jefferson County victim’s advocates, who she says advised her not to come to Hernandez-Fuerte’s court hearing.

“I asked, ‘Should I be there?’ and the victim advocate said, ‘No, it's not necessary for you to be there,'” Diana said.

Diana, nevertheless, went to the hearing and saw a representative of the District Attorney’s Office offering Hernandez-Fuerte a deal -- a plea to driving without a license and having a defective headlight.

“I said the plea deal that he had made is unacceptable,” Diana said. “I said, 'Before she gets in front of the judge, can you reconsider that?' and he said 'No.'”

Robert Weiner, chief deputy district attorney in Jefferson County, conceded that the judge was never informed of the family’s injuries. The district attorney's representative never considered the injuries because the officer at the scene of the accident didn't indicate injuries on the ticket.

And the victim's advocate never passed along information to the court that Diana and her husband were injured and were applying for restitution, Weiner confirmed.

“To my understanding it was not disseminated,” Weiner told CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia.

“So that red flag wasn't in there?” Ferrugia asked.

“That is my understanding,” Weiner said. “Correct.”

The district attorney did reserve the right to apply for restitution as it does routinely in traffic accident cases. The vehicle Hernandez-Fuerte was driving did have insurance. But Diana said she is still out thousands of dollars for rehabilitation for her and her husband’s injuries.

“The D.A.’s representative made a note in the file indicating that the victim was not happy … and further indicated that restitution was reserved," Weiner said. "At that point, the offer had been made and accepted.”

Unlicensed Driver Seen Driving Again

In court, Hernandez-Fuerte received a $95 fine and was ordered not to drive for at least a year, Weiner said. But shortly after the hearing, Diana’s husband spotted Hernandez-Fuerte driving the same vehicle.

So Diana started to document Hernandez-Fuerte’s driving without a license, bringing the video to Denver police officers near where Hernandez-Fuerte lives. But instead of arresting the unlicensed driver, the officer warned Diana that she could get in trouble for videotaping Hernandez-Fuerte driving.

“I showed the officer,” she said. “First I told him about the accident and while he was looking up the case number I showed him the video and I said that's her and she's driving. He said, 'Well, madam, you don’t want to be doing this, she can have you arrested.'''

To document the police reaction, a CALL7 producer accompanied Diana to the police station and, using hidden cameras, found police were telling Diana the same story.

“It would be harassing if she gets caught videotaping her. And if she wants to press charges against her, we would have to take a report,” said one officer.

“But she's not contacting her. She's just in public,” the CALL7 producer said.

“It doesn't matter, it doesn't matter,” the officer said.

Police also told Diana that she would likely face more serious consequences if the situation was reversed and she caused the accident.

“I think that I would be treated different if the same thing happened to me, and I was driving without a driver’s license,” Diana said.

“Probably, yeah,” said one police officer.

“Why?” the CALL7 producer asked.

“Because we know where to find you,” said one officer

“We have easy access to you,” said another.

Police told Diana they would try to catch Hernandez-Fuerte driving, but that they are busy and if they received another call they would have to answer it. The officer said she cannot accept video evidence and must witness Hernandez-Fuerte driving to ticket her.

Within days, Call 7 Investigator John Ferrugia documented Hernandez-Fuerte driving and confronted her.

“John Ferrugia, I'm with Channel 7 in Denver, and I want to ask you if you have driver's license,” Ferrugia said.

“She wants to know why,” an interpreter said describing what Hernandez-Fuerte was saying.

“So do you have a driver's license?” Ferrugia asked.

“She says she doesn't have to answer that,” the interpreter said.

Hernandez-Fuerte Threatens To Sue Victim

But Hernandez-Fuerte did know the law enough to threaten Diana with legal action if she continues to track Hernandez-Fuerte’s driving.

“She says if (Diana) keeps following her, she's going to file a lawsuit because she feels harassed,” the interpreter said.

Hernandez-Fuerte also threatened to call police.

Diana said she was upset that the system seemed to protect Hernandez-Fuerte instead of the victims of the accident.

“I’m very angry I just feel that I've had no say in the whole process,” Diana said. “I feel I've been more of, not only a victim of an accident -- a lot of people are victims of accidents and I’m fortunate that I didn’t die -- but I had no voice in this. I don’t feel I was represented by anybody in this, even victim advocates.

“She is driving,” Diana said of Hernandez-Fuerte. “Her life hasn't changed. It cost her $95.”

Hernandez-Fuerte refused to say whether she was in the country legally.

Neither Lakewood police nor the Jefferson County D.A. representative asked her about her immigration status. Nor did the D.A. ask her for identification when she showed up for court.

As chief deputy district attorney Robert Weiner explained: “We cannot affect and impact immigration policy through the traffic court."

If you have a news tip, or follow-up to this story, e-mail me or the 7NEWS team. You can also connect with me on Facebook or through Twitter @johnferrugia7.

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