Deputy fined $20 for leaving drunk man at Taco Bell

The man tried to walk home from restaurant and was killed by a vehicle

Laura Arenschield
The Columbus Dispatch

DELAWARE, Ohio — One of two Delaware County deputies who dropped off an intoxicated Mexican immigrant at a Taco Bell last summer rather than charge the man with drunken driving was fined $20 yesterday for his role in the incident.

The immigrant, Uriel Juarez Popoca, 22, had been picked up along I-71 the night of July 28 by the two deputies and a State Highway Patrol trooper. After the deputies left him at the restaurant, Popoca tried to walk home, was hit by a car and killed.

The case drew national attention — and local charges — after video from the State Highway Patrol cruiser showed that at least one of the deputies made jokes about Popoca, who spoke little English and whose autopsy showed his blood-alcohol content at 0.23 percent. That's nearly three times the limit at which a driver in Ohio is presumed to be drunk.

All three officers were charged in connection with the incident. Delaware County Deputy Christopher Hughes, 27, was the only one to plead in the case rather than go to trial.

He pleaded no contest yesterday in Delaware Municipal Court to a minor-misdemeanor charge of failure to assist a law-enforcement officer. He then was found guilty and fined $20 plus court costs.

Marilyn Zayas-Davis, legal adviser for the Ohio chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, questioned the charge that Hughes pleaded to and the fine that was levied against him.

"It's illogical," Zayas-Davis said. "The outcome from the criminal proceedings calls into question what the value of life is."

Trials began yesterday for Deputy Derek Beggs, 29, and Trooper Sean Carpenter, 37, who each face two misdemeanor charges of dereliction of duty.

Special Prosecutor Mary Lynn Caswell, of the Columbus city attorney's office, said in her opening statement that Popoca was found around the time the deputies and trooper were scheduled to clock out for the night.

"The defendants were more concerned with going home than with doing their jobs," she said. "At any time, either defendant could have stepped forward to make an arrest."

Neither the deputies nor Carpenter arrested Popoca, although one of the deputies said he was intoxicated, according to a cruiser video released in August by the State Highway Patrol.

Instead, Beggs and Hughes drove Popoca, who was a native of Mexico, to the Taco Bell on Rt. 36/37 and left him there because "they gotta have someone in there who can interpret," one of the deputies said in the video.

The three decided that the best way to handle the situation would be to have Popoca, who did not have a driver's license but had been driving drunk, call someone to pick him up.

Carpenter's attorney, Sam Shamansky, said Carpenter should not be held accountable for Popoca's death because Carpenter never came within 10 feet of Popoca. The trooper had arrived after the deputies already had pulled over Popoca.

"The poor guy gets run over, it's tragic, it's too bad," Shamansky said of Popoca. But the case against Carpenter, "it's lies, it's a witch hunt, it's sickening."

Internal investigations by both the Delaware County sheriff's office and the State Highway Patrol are ongoing. Beggs and Hughes have been on paid administrative leave since the incident; Carpenter has been on desk duty.

Copyright 2012 The Columbus Dispatch

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