From her hospital bed in Austin, Texas, a young woman named Elizabeth English is putting on a brave face -- the victim of a hit-and-run driver from Mexico who was presumably in the country illegally. English, shown in a photo on her bed giving a plucky thumbs-up, was riding her bicycle home at 10 p.m. when a Dodge Ram pickup ran over her on March 29. Pinned beneath the pickup, English was dragged nearly half a mile. Her ear-splitting screams alerted nearby residents who came running to help her. Yet the pickup's alleged driver, 41-year-old Artemio Avila, sped away and left English, horribly disfigured, lying in the street.
“She didn't look human. She looked like an animal initially," one witness said. The pavement had ground away the skin on her back and most of her right buttocks. Part of her right pelvis was ground off, and her lower spine was exposed.
Now, the student of psychiatry at the University of Texas, Austin, is undergoing multiple surgeries and skin grafts. She is at high risk for infection, and medical staff have expressed concern she won't survive. Friends want to raise $100,000 to defray her medical expenses, and they quickly raised more than $41,000 through a "GoFundMe" account.
Avila, meanwhile, is being held in the Travis County Jail on $100,000 bond, charged with a third degree felony for failing to stop and render aid to a person he had seriously injured. Federal immigration authorities quickly placed a “hold” on him. He had previously been deported to Mexico in 2008, said a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Interestingly, Avila's immigration status was a fact that only local NBC-affiliate KXAN bothered to report in politically correct Austin -- a college town, high-tech Mecca, and bastion of progressive politics. There is no word on what Avila was doing in Austin, the state's capital. But if he is like many of his kind in Austin, a sanctuary city, he probably felt comfortable in the metropolitan area's growing subculture of poor and uneducated Latinos, who are changing the states' demographics and culture. In Texas, “white Anglos” are now a slight minority (49%) of the population.
The hit-and-run that nearly killed English came as federal border patrol agents publicly criticized President Obama's “catch and release” policies toward illegal immigrants – blaming them for encouraging the ongoing illegal immigration crisis from south of the border.
Hit-and-runs, to be sure, are all too common in Austin, just as in much of America's southwest where high numbers of illegal immigrants live. This trend was examined in 2006 by the Arizona Daily Star, a daily newspaper serving Tucson and southern Arizona. The paper concluded that, “The states with the highest percentages of hit-and-runs among fatal crashes from 1994 to 2004 are also the states with the most illegal immigrants.”
Drunken driving -- which presumably figures into many hit-and-run accidents -- also is a problem among Latino men in the Austin area, according to police statistics. Several years ago, the Austin-American Statesman ran an article about Hispanic men and drunken driving, pointing out that, “Of 3,007 drunken driving arrests in 2002, 43 percent involved Hispanic men, even though they make up only about 11 percent of Austin's driving population.” The article added that "Hispanics made up 47 percent of the DWI arrests but only 21 percent of Austin drivers.”
Police quickly arrested Avila thanks to some lucky breaks, according to police affidavits cited by Austin's media outlets. The day after the hit-and-run, an off-duty Austin policeman driving home (he had responded to the gruesome accident) spotted a pickup matching the description given by witnesses of the hit-and-run vehicle: a Dodge Ram with an attached camper shell.
Then, an on-duty Austin officer followed the pickup to nearby Kyle, a small city 20 miles south of Austin. Pulling it over for a routine traffic violation, he observed blood and fresh paint scrapes on the hood. Avila initially denied running over English, and claimed his cousin had lent his pickup to a man named “Chago” on the night of the hit-and-run. But he eventually admitted his involvement. However, he claimed to have heard only a “slight bump on the passenger side of the truck” when he hit English.
As horrific as that hit-and-run was, it was hardly the most outrageous such incident to ever occur in Austin. In 2008, a well-known Austin musician and songwriter named Eric M. Laufer, then 25, was returning home late at night on his Harley-Davidson Sportster when -- a few minutes from home – a GMC Yukon traveling at high speed rear-ended him. The 25-year-old died instantly.
Responding to 911 calls about a body on the side of the road, police found a motorcyclist wearing a helmet and riding gear. But there was no motorcycle – only a dark skid mark running along the road.
Police quickly surmised that the motorcycle had become lodged in the hit-and-run vehicle's grill. Following the skid mark, police found Laufer's shattered motorcycle 1.16 miles (6,168 feet) away. And wedged between its ground-up rear tire and motorcycle's frame, they found a crumpled license plate: Z23JXB. It was registered to a 1995 GMC Yukon. The owner lived nearby. Going to the apartment complex, they found the SUV: It had front-end damage consistent with a collision with a motorcycle. The front license plate was missing.
I wrote about Laufer's death as a freelance journalist – and talked with an Austin police detective in the vehicular homicide unit, Chad Francois. He described entering the apartment of Yukon's owner and encountering a typical scene: A two or three-bedroom unit occupied by a number of Spanish-speaking men and women, all presumably from Mexico. None spoke English. Det. Francois said he posed no questions about their immigration status. In sanctuary cities like Austin that's how things are done. If police enforced immigration laws, they naively believe, illegal immigrants would be reluctant to report crimes and cooperate with police.
Officers thus asked only about who'd been driving the Yukon: It was Jose Luis Dorantes they were told; he'd borrowed the vehicle. However, “Nobody could tell us what he was doing that night or why he had the vehicle,” Det. Francois related in response to specific questions. He added: “They cooperated just enough to stay out of trouble.” In such cases, it's a typical reaction -- being minimally cooperative, he told me.
When the detective told the group that one of their friends had killed an American, the detective added: “I didn't see any emotion out of anyone of them: No shock, no disbelief, no question of where or when or anything.” It's the “reaction I've seen before,” he said, explaining it may be due to certain “cultural” issues. He didn't elaborate, but such cultural issues are addressed in a training manual used at an Austin police academy; it's a Berlitz-style guide on Spanish language and culture. Unassimilated “Latinos” it states,
will most likely side with each other than an outsider. An individual will assist family members and friends regardless of the consequences, and expect the same in return. A sense of honor is so important in Latino culture, that it may keep an individual from cooperating with the police against a friend or family members, even though he or she may not condone any of the actions.
Dorantes, who then was about 20-years old, had worked as a dishwasher in a local restaurant. He was never found despite a $5,000 reward offered by Laufer's family. A segment on “America's Most Wanted” about the case also failed to produce an arrest. It was presumed that Dorantes was drunk on the night he killed Laufer. Many Mexican men are unaware that the penalties for drunken driven in the U.S. are stricter than in Mexico, say officials. Heavy drinking is part of the culture of Mexico's lowest socioeconomic classes -- and has even been identified as a problem holding back development in its impoverished peasant culture.
Now that peasant culture has come to America, and in particular to its sanctuary cities. In large swaths of Austin, for instance, you could easily think you are in another country – a shabby and backward part of Mexico. “I can take you to entire blocks where there are nothing but undocumented immigrants, or whatever you call them these days,” Francois told me. He noted that Austin suffers about 800 to 1,000 hit-and-run accidents every day, but that the public only hears about those causing death or serious injury.
Two physical objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time: Perhaps the same may be said of two cultures that are alien to one another.