Rockville, MD – Immigration officials have arrested the man responsible for killing two law enforcement officials who were standing in the emergency lane after a traffic crash in December of 2017.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents took 28-year-old Roberto A. Garza Palacios into custody on Thursday, just two days after the Maryland State Police announced Palacios had been charged with negligent driving and given a $280 file and three points for the collision that left a state fire chief and a federal agent dead, The Washington Post reported.
After his arrest on May 3, Palacios was charged with overstaying and violating the terms of a work visa that expired in 2009, according to Justine Whelan, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
It turned out that the native of Guatemala, whom ICE attempted to detain back in 2015, had an extensive police record and has been wanted by immigration officials for almost three years, the Germantown Pulse reported.
According court records, Palacios was ticketed in May of 2015 for the exact same negligent driving violation for which he was charged after the December crash which killed Chief Cohen and Agent Wolff. He was also charged with failure to obey traffic control device instructions.
He pleaded guilty to both those charges, but failed to pay the tickets and had his driving privileges suspended from June 22, 2015 until Nov. 20, 2015, the Germantown Pulse reported.
On June 12, 2015, Palacios was arrested on 16 counts of malicious destruction of property after he was accused of smashing 16 windows with a metal bar and setting a sofa on fire near a construction site, The Washington Post reported.
He was held in the Montgomery County jail after that arrest, and ICE put a detainer on him in August of 2015 which meant that he should be turned over to immigration officials when he got out of the county jail.
However, jail officials released Palacios without notifying ICE, according to The Washington Post.
Robert Green, director of the Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, said his agency decided the ICE detainer request from August 2015 lacked sufficient probable cause, so they released Palacios from jail without notifying immigration officials.
The illegal immigrant was arrested in Montgomery County again two year later, in August of 2017. He was charged with possession of controlled dangerous substance, but the prosecutor dropped the charges and released him, the Germantown Pulse reported.
Montgomery County officials declared their jurisdiction a “sanctuary” in January of 2017 after then newly-elected President Donald Trump announced his executive order on border security.
“Montgomery County is committed to building and maintaining a safe and inclusive community for our residents. Understanding, tolerance, and respect are hallmarks of the Montgomery County way. Social justice for all is what we strive to achieve in our County,” the statement read.
“It is longstanding County policy that County police do not enforce federal immigration law. Neither will they inquire about immigration status when individuals are stopped nor target individuals based on their ethnicity, race, or religious beliefs,” the county said.
The crash that killed 33-year-old Chief Cohen and 36-year-old Agent Wolff occurred at about 10 pm on Dec. 8, 2017 after Agent Wolff had been involved in a crash with his personal vehicle, and Chief Cohen stopped to assist him at about 10 p.m.
Police said that Chief Cohen turned on his emergency flashers and positioned his vehicle to block off Wolff’s damaged one while he called officers for assistance, WTTG reported.
Investigators said that Agent Wolff and Chief Cohen were both standing outside their vehicles in the left emergency lane talking when Palacios came upon the scene.
Palacios, 28, told police he was in the left lane and tried to change lanes to avoid the stopped cars, but was blocked by traffic. So instead, he tried to go left around the vehicles.
He swerved left and hit both Agent Wolff and Chief Cohen, throwing them over the median’s dividing barrier and into oncoming traffic on the southbound side of the freeway, WTTG reported.
Chief Cohen died at the scene. Agent Wolff was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead, police said.
Palacios remained at the scene and cooperated with police, WTTG reported.
Investigators determined that neither alcohol, nor drugs, nor speed were factors in the tragic crash.