Nuns decry focus on immigration status of driver in fatal Va. crash

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 3, 2010; 3:32 PM

The religious order that was home to three nuns whose car was hit Sunday morning by an alleged drunk driver in Northern Virginia said it is upset at what it views as the politicization of the incident.

Sister Glenna Smith, a spokeswoman for the Benedictine Sisters, said Tuesday that "we are dismayed" by reports that the crash, which killed one woman and critically injured two others, is focusing attention on the man's status as an alleged illegal immigrant. Critics of federal immigration policy have seized on the crash.

"The fact the he had DUIs is really poignant, but he's a child of God and deserves to be treated with dignity," Smith said of the driver, Carlos A. Martinelly Montano. "I don't want to make a pro- or anti-immigrant statement but simply a point that he is an individual human person and we will be approaching him with mercy. Denise, of all us, would be the first to offer forgiveness."

Another nun said Montano's parents, Maria and Alejandro Martinelly, appeared unexpectedly at the monastery in Bristow on Sunday night. Sister Andrea Verchuck, who has lived at the monastery for 66 years, said she was working at her desk that night when the doorbell rang.

The couple were apologetic, she said, and told her they had tried to get their son help. Verchuck said she was glad she answered the door, so she could reassure them that the nuns "held no grudges."

"They were hurting, and their son is in trouble," she said.

The conversation was brief, she said. "We just wanted to ask: 'How was he? How are his injuries?' And to reassure them of our forgiveness."

Prince William County police say Montano, 23, was intoxicated when the 1997 Subaru Outback he was driving in the Bristow area struck a guardrail on Bristow Road near Wright Lane shortly before 8:30 a.m. Sunday. The Outback, traveling north, spun out of control and careered into the southbound lanes, colliding head-on with the nuns' 2003 Toyota Corolla.

Montano, who authorities say is an illegal immigrant from Bolivia, has a record of numerous motor vehicle violations in recent years, including two drunken-driving cases for which he served 20 days in jail, according to authorities and court records.

He was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after a drunken-driving arrest in 2008. Montano was released on his own recognizance pending a deportation hearing, which has yet to occur because of a backlog.

Corey A. Stewart (R-at Large), chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, said he hoped it would focus attention on the illegal immigration issue.

"This crime need not have happened, this nun need not have been killed, if federal authorities, who now have blood on their hands, had done their job in the first place and had this sleazebag deported," Stewart said in an interview on WTOP (103.5 FM).

U.S. Rep. Harold Rogers (Ky.), the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, said he has long warned that the Obama administration policy of concentrating on deporting illegal immigrants with serious criminal records "would have devastating consequences."

"Now we see the tragic results this 'virtual amnesty' policy of the Obama administration has caused," Rogers was quoted as saying in the Washington Times. "A life could have been saved had ICE just simply done their job to begin with."

Smith said the two injured nuns were in critical condition Tuesday at Inova Fairfax Hospital, but "we hear they might be stabilizing."

The order, which has 33 nuns based in Bristow, had a silent retreat scheduled for this week and has been trying to keep it on track despite the tragedy. Some sisters are keeping vigil at the hospital, as well, Smith said.

In a statement, the order said: "The Benedictine Sisters are dismayed and saddened that this tragedy has been politicized and become an apparent forum for the illegal immigration agenda. While grieving and dealing with the death and severe injuries of our sisters, we would like to re-focus attention on the consequences of drinking and driving and on Christ's command to forgive."

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