Student body president who is illegal immigrant injured in crash

Jan 11 2011 - 10:46am

FRESNO, Calif. -- Fresno State University's controversial student body president apparently broke traffic laws in a single-vehicle crash early Sunday but likely will not be prosecuted on criminal charges.

Pedro Ramirez, 22, who became nationally known two months ago after announcing that he is an illegal immigrant, was driving a pickup that crashed into a tree and brick base around the tree, causing "substantial damage," said Fresno Police Capt. Andy Hall.

The accident was reported at 5:49 a.m. PST Sunday.

Hall said Ramirez, who was injured in the crash, was driving without a license, made an unsafe lane change and -- based on the distance of skid marks -- was likely driving faster than the posted 25 mph speed limit. The Toyota Tacoma pickup he was driving was registered to Martin Ramirez of Tulare, Calif., he said.

When police arrived, they found Ramirez pinned in the driver's seat with serious head injuries, Hall said. No alcohol was detected on Ramirez by police or at the hospital, Hall said.

Ramirez was giving a ride home to a friend who told police he had called Ramirez because he had been drinking, Hall said. The passenger, identified as Luis Hernandez of Fresno, was concerned about the pickup's speed just before the accident and told police he had asked Ramirez to slow down, Hall said.

Police will recommend that the district attorney's office file a misdemeanor unlicensed driver charge against Ramirez, Hall said.

But unlicensed driver cases are almost always prosecuted as infractions, the least serious category of violations that is resolved with a citation, Hall said.

"We had 9,300 unlicensed drivers last year and virtually all were prosecuted as infractions," he said.

Ramirez, 22, was the only person injured in the accident. He was taken by ambulance to Community Regional Medical Center, where he was in fair condition Monday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

A friend, who identified himself only as John, answered Ramirez's cell phone Monday and said Ramirez was "doing OK." He would not answer other questions.

Hall said Ramirez's name was not found in the California Law Enforcement and Telecommunications System -- which tracks the state's licensed drivers -- by the officer who arrived at the scene.

"There was no license that we could find," Hall said.

Ramirez's lawyer, Jessica Smith Bobadilla previously told McClatchy Newspapers that Ramirez does not drive.

The officer at the scene was not a traffic officer and could not write citations for the other traffic infractions unless he witnessed them, Hall said.

Ramirez's case is "not out of the ordinary," he said. "He was treated like any other driver."

He said Ramirez will be responsible for the damage he caused and his medical bills.

Fresno State President John Welty said Monday that he was "very saddened to hear that Pedro Ramirez ... was injured in an automobile accident. Our first concern is for his recovery and my hope is that he will heal quickly and completely."

Ramirez's immigration status has prompted questions.

Student Neil O'Brien said Ramirez has been illegally driving, working and participating in the political process.

O'Brien, who has posted allegations against Ramirez on a website, also has suggested that Ramirez is really a legal resident pretending to be illegal to make a political statement.

Smith Bobadilla, the lawyer representing Ramirez, said in an e-mail that Ramirez isn't working, driving, voting or impersonating an illegal immigrant.

Ramirez said he was brought to the U.S. from Mexico by his parents at age 3.

McClatchy Newspapers examined many of the questions O'Brien raises on his website, including the suggestion that Ramirez is a legal U.S. resident. O'Brien said he found Fresno County records that match the names of Ramirez's parents and date to the early 1980s -- showing they lived here prior to Ramirez's birth.

But the couple he named didn't appear to be Ramirez's parents. McClatchy Newspapers found documents supporting Ramirez's contention that he and his family have lived for years in Tulare County.

A second charge appears -- at least in part -- to be uncontested: Ramirez previously has said he's worked odd jobs to help pay college tuition.


(Staff writer Cyndee Fontana contributed to this report.)


(c) 2011, The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.).

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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