Crash Suspect Had Feb. Charge

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 30, 2006

The man accused of killing a Marine in a drunken driving accident on Thanksgiving was charged with drunken driving earlier this year, but the case was dropped because Howard County police did not collect enough evidence, prosecutors said yesterday.

Prosecutors also said a police blunder allowed the man, Eduardo Raul Morales-Soriano, 25, of Laurel, to keep his driver's license after the Feb. 5 incident, although it should have been suspended immediately after he refused to take a breath test.

Police have opened an internal investigation to review the performance of the officers involved and determine whether they could have built a stronger case, said police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn. She declined to comment further.

Federal authorities determined yesterday that Morales-Soriano was an illegal immigrant from Mexico and filed papers to begin deportation proceedings, said James Dinkins, acting special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Baltimore office.

Morales-Soriano was charged last week in the deaths of Marine Cpl. Brian Mathews, a 21-year-old Columbia native who spent eight months in Iraq, and Mathews's date, Jennifer Bower, 24, of Montgomery Village. Police said Morales-Soriano's blood alcohol level was four times the legal limit when he slammed into the back of the car carrying the couple.

Morales-Soriano's February charge was first reported yesterday in the Baltimore Sun.

Authorities have alleged that Morales-Soriano was intoxicated the night of Feb. 5. Police smelled alcohol on his breath and saw three beer cans in his vehicle, said Howard County State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone. He said Morales-Soriano lost his balance as officers asked him to begin a field sobriety test.

But for undetermined reasons, the officers stopped him from completing the test, McCrone said. "I don't know what was on the mind of the officers at the time," he said. "It certainly helps prove the case if you have field sobriety exercises."

Morales-Soriano then refused to take a breath test, which should have led to the suspension of his license for 120 days. But the police accidentally gave Morales-Soriano all the copies of the form that was supposed to have been sent to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration to begin the suspension, McCrone said.

"The information was never transmitted to the MVA," said Buel Young, an agency spokesman. "We have no idea of knowing he is even stopped unless the police tell us."

Morales-Soriano, a landscaper, moved to Maryland about a year ago from North Carolina, according to court and state records. A woman who answered the phone at his home yesterday said the family would not comment.

Although police charged him in February with four counts related to drunken driving, the case was dropped in April after prosecutors determined that they could not obtain a conviction. There were no witnesses who saw him driving drunk, no field sobriety test and no form showing that he had refused a breath test, McCrone said.

"We need evidence to prove our cases," he said. "We didn't have it."

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