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Judge rules that man can't use fear as defense in fatal crash

February 28, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - An illegal alien will not be able to use fear of a nonexistent angry mob as a defense for allegedly leaving the scene of a fatal accident last summer, according to a ruling by Franklin County Judge John R. Walker.

"They could have picked me up and beaten me and caused me to die," Juan Eduardo Beltran-Gonzalez testified through an interpreter Thursday about why he fled the scene. "There have been many cases of that," he testified.

Beltran-Gonzalez, 30, of 3673 Woodstock Road, Chambersburg, is charged with accidents involving death or serious bodily injury while not properly licensed in the Aug. 24, 2003, accident that resulted in the death of Ronald Higgs, 55, of Spring Run, Pa. He faces a minimum of one year in prison if convicted of the third-degree felony, according to his attorney, Stephen D. Kulla.

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According to Pennsylvania State Police, Higgs was driving a 1996 Chevrolet Astro van south on Cumberland Highway when a northbound 1989 Chevrolet pickup crossed the center line and struck the van. Higgs, who was thrown from the van, died at Hershey (Pa.) Medical Center the next day, police said.

The pickup left the scene, but a trail of leaking oil led police to where it had been abandoned. The truck was traced to a Shippensburg, Pa., man, who told police "Eduardo" had used the truck and admitted to being in an accident, the affidavit of probable cause stated.

Beltran-Gonzalez surrendered to police two days after the accident. He has been in Franklin County Prison since then on $50,000 bond.

Assistant District Attorney Angela Krom said she filed a motion to preclude Beltran-Gonzalez from using a "defense of necessity" in his trial, scheduled for April 8.

In a response to the motion, Kulla wrote his client "left the scene out of a legitimate belief that Caucasian persons would come to the accident scene and, after seeing what he had done, cause Juan great physical harm, if not death."

Beltran-Gonzalez testified he entered the United States illegally six months before the accident and had been in the Chambersburg area for about a week. He said he had no green card and the only English he knew was what he has learned in prison.

He said he worked in a restaurant where he would see "white people."

"When one goes by them, they use bad words and spit on the ground," he said.

"If he doesn't know English, how does he know they're saying something bad about him?" Walker asked.

"Bad words are the first thing one learns," Beltran-Gonzalez said through the court interpreter.

On cross-examination by Krom and to questions posed by Walker, Beltran-Gonzalez said he left the scene before knowing how many people were in the vehicle, the extent of any injuries or the race of anyone inside. He said bad brakes on the truck caused it to veer into the opposing lane.

"The Hispanic person has always been attacked" in various places and cities, Beltran-Gonzalez testified. "That has been on the news," he said when Krom asked him for examples.

"If it's so bad here, why did you come here?" Krom asked.

"One comes with the idea of bettering oneself in this country," he said.

Walker ruled that Beltran-Gonzalez had "offered no evidence that he was in clear and imminent danger." The judge said he could not use the defense of necessity at trial.

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