Saying that his client is nothing more than a grieving father — one so devoted that he has a tattoo of the face of his only child on his chest — an attorney for Natividad de Jesus Hernandez said the man should be making funeral arrangements for his son, not sitting in jail.
Immigration advocates agree. Lawyers, advocacy groups and social-service organizations are mobilizing to help Hernandez and his family, in part because they say that a $500,000 bond for a man being held on a charge of leaving the scene of a crash that fatally injured his 4-year-old is outrageous.
“This is an extraordinarily high bond in this type of case and could ... simply be a way to prevent the government from summarily deporting Mr. Hernandez out of the jurisdiction,” said Joseph Mas, a Columbus criminal-defense lawyer who does not represent Hernandez but is chairman of the Ohio Hispanic Coalition and is among those trying to help.
Hernandez, 30, is a native of El Salvador, and authorities say he is in the United States illegally. Immigration officials have filed paperwork to begin deportation if he is released from jail, prosecutors said during Hernandez’s arraignment yesterday in Marysville Municipal Court.
“The overemphasis on immigration status is unfair,” Mas said.
Hernandez has been in the Tri-County Regional Jail in Mechanicsburg since Thursday, the day that 4-year-old Angel Gustavo Hernandez either fell or got out of the family’s van at a residential construction site on Brock Road in Union County about 11 a.m.
The State Highway Patrol has said that Hernandez was there to steal scrap material to sell, but when a work van pulled into the site, he backed out of the driveway and over Angel.
When a Union County deputy sheriff and an ambulance arrived, the emergency personnel grabbed the child from Hernandez’s arms. Deputy Scott Anspach, a trained emergency medical technician and firefighter, jumped in to drive the ambulance when he saw that all the paramedics were busy trying to save the child. The dashboard camera in his vehicle continued to record, showing that Hernandez and his girlfriend’s two children stayed by the side of the road unattended for about three minutes. Then they got into the van and left.
Scott Culbert, Hernandez’s attorney, said yesterday that the video clearly shows that Hernandez was left alone and had no idea what to do: “This is a bad case against him as far as the hit-skip."
Culbert said that Angel was Hernandez’s only child and that he is devastated: “He’s a father whose son died on his watch,” Culbert said. “This man should be pitied, not judged.”
Angel was pronounced dead at OhioHealth Dublin Methodist Hospital, where Hernandez showed up about 1 p.m., two hours after he had left the scene of the crash.
Sheriff Jamie Patton said yesterday that if his deputy could do it over again, he might have made it clear to Hernandez to stay at the crash site. But at the time, Patton said, Anspach was focused on saving the child and knew that another deputy and troopers were on the way to the crash site.
“At that moment, in that instant, it’s all about saving a life,” Patton said. “I can’t fault him.”
For now, immigration advocates are focused on not only how to help what they see as an injustice done to Hernandez, but also how to properly bury Angel, said Josue Vicente, the executive director of the Ohio Hispanic Coalition.
The child’s mother is in Honduras, and the family has no means to raise the estimated $5,000 to send the boy’s body home.
Culbert said yesterday that Hernandez was not at the construction site to steal materials. The lawyer could not say exactly why his client was there.
Public records from the Union County sheriff’s office indicate that Hernandez told officials at the hospital that he had strapped Angel into the van, but when he walked around to the driver’s door and got in, he didn’t realize the boy had somehow left the van.
“There’s no one suffering more right now than Mr. Hernandez,” Culbert said. “No matter what anyone does to him, he’s already serving a life sentence.”
Local ministry The Manger has started a fund at gofundme.com/SendAngelHome to help raise the money needed to send the 4-year-old's body to Honduras.
Robin Schuman runs the organization, which helps families at Christmas, many of them Latino.
After learning that there was no money to get Angel home to his mother in Honduras for a proper burial, she and others from her organization and her church began contacting Latino groups and Hernandez's lawyer to see how to help.
The fund was set up this morning; anything left over after burial expenses will go to help the other children who witnessed the crash — counseling services, etc. — and to help meet their needs.
By Holly Zachariah - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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