WBUR

Fatal Milford Crash Remains A Lightning Rod For Immigration Policy

MILFORD, Mass. — Everyone has a slightly different version of what happened on that late-summer evening in Milford in 2011, but the gruesome details are consistent.

Police say Nicolas Guaman, an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador, was driving drunk with his son in the car when, near the corner of Fayette and Congress, he hit and killed 23-year-old Matthew Denice, a recent college graduate who was riding his motorcycle home.

It was the kind of summer evening when folks were out barbecuing on the lawn, and there were plenty of witnesses.

It’s unclear how many times Denice was struck, but it’s clear Guaman never bothered to stop and check. He drove off from the scene.

Now, nearly three years after the accident, Guaman goes on trial Wednesday morning in Worcester Superior Court. He faces seven charges: murder, manslaughter by motor vehicle, motor vehicle homicide while under the influence of alcohol and negligent operation, reckless endangerment of a child, leaving the scene of an accident causing death, failure to stop for a police officer and unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.

His lawyer has asked for a bench trial, meaning the verdict is in the hands of the judge. There will be no jury.

A Rallying Cry Against Immigrants 

The accident’s aftershocks still reverberate in Milford, a small MetroWest town with a population just under 28,000. It’s also overwhelmingly white, according to the latest census data. Slowly though, Latinos have been chipping away at that majority.

“Anybody in this town is getting undercut by illegal aliens so bad it’s hard to make a living anymore,” Jack Strapponi said at a tattoo parlor on the main strip in town, getting a blue flower fixed on his arm.

Most of the other businesses on the street are Latino restaurants, storefront churches or hair salons.

Strapponi says illegal immigrants are changing the flavor of the city. They wear their soccer cleats in the park and mess up the lawn.

“I’m 53 years old and I lived in this town pretty much my whole entire life,” Strapponi explained. “I’m Italian and my great grandparents were immigrants, but they came over here legally. They learned how to speak English.”

Strapponi says the town started to change as soon as all the Ecuadorians moved in — though it’s not clear when that shift began and how many Ecuadorians call Milford home these days.

“I know that sounds racist, but it’s not,” Strapponi said. “It’s like they just took up all the jobs.”

He says the accident that killed Matthew Denice struck a raw nerve.

“There’s been such an influx of illegal aliens in this town, you know, people are finally just fed up,” he said.

But there also seems to be a generational difference. Around town, younger folks who went to high school with Denice seem to adopt a more nuanced attitude.

Kane Rogers is the tattoo artist who was working on Strapponi’s arm.

“If that guy hit him, and hit him on the bike, it’s one thing that he had no license and was driving drunk, that was the main thing,” Rogers said. “The fact that he came from somewhere, it sucks that that has to be grouped in.”

Rogers says he doesn’t understand why the hit-and-run has become a rallying cry against immigrants. These days, it’s such a part of the town folklore that even new immigrants, like Lorana Hernandez, who moved to Milford last year, know all about the accident.

She says she’s sometimes scared when she walks around with her daughter because a couple months ago a white woman yelled at her for simply talking on her phone outside her house.

Jonathan Leon has lived in Milford for nine years. He’s originally from Ecuador and says in the early days after the accident people were nervous to leave their homes. There were reports of immigration agents on street corners and bottles being thrown at immigrants.

These days, he says the relationship between Ecuadorians and white people is not totally normal, but it’s better.

He says white people remember this accident, and point to all of his people, which isn’t fair. He says there are accidents involving white people who are drunk driving and hit someone, but nobody blames all the white people.

A Preventable Tragedy

But, for Maureen Maloney, Matthew Denice’s mother, her son’s death is a consequence of lax immigration enforcement.

Guaman was an undocumented immigrant who had previously been arrested for breaking and entering. And if he had been deported when he was arrested the first time back in 2008, her son might still be alive.

“Nothing is going to bring Matthew back. We are just hoping to get Gauman the longest sentence we can get for him and then after he serves his jail time here that he be deported,” she said.

But for Maloney, justice means more than punishment for Guaman.

“I think if we just get back to the basics and enforce the laws that we currently have here and secure our borders, that would do a lot to solve the problem,” she said.

Maloney has become an outspoken critic of illegal immigration and strongly opposes a bill in the State House that would give undocumented immigrants the right to apply for a driver’s licenses.

“I don’t want anyone else to ever have to go through this. I just want to raise public awareness, that’s the most important thing for me right now, is preventing another tragedy like this from happening,” Maloney said.

Jessica Vaughan, with the Center for Immigration Studies, says Denice’s death was a “preventable tragedy.”

“There has been a tendency sometimes for groups that are opposed to immigration enforcement to whitewash what can happen when people who are here illegally and causing problems in the community are allowed to slip between the cracks,” Vaughan said.

The accident has become fodder for policy debates around illegal immigration, which worries Frank Soults, the spokesman for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

“I think it’s very unfortunate that this trial is happening at the time that it’s happening because I think it can inflame some irrational sentiment,” Soults said.

His group has been pushing for a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, and the bill needs to get out of committee by May 15.

“We can’t look at what ifs, we have to deal with the reality, and the reality is these immigrants are here and we have to be trying to deal with the problem of how to make life safer for everybody, and that’s what driver’s licenses would unquestionably do,” Soults said.

Matthew Denice’s mother disagrees. Her son’s trial, which is expected to last five days, has become a rallying cry for a bigger crusade against driver’s licenses for the undocumented.

Earlier:

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  • Sara Oaklander

    I don’t understand why WBUR is buying into the conflation of this tragic incident and the issue of immigration. My guess is that more tragic accidents are caused by non-immigrant drunk drivers…probably even white drunk drivers. The fact that this individual’s behavior was so egregious that he caused Matthew Denice’s tragic death is not a function of the fact that he was undocumented; it’s that he was driving drunk. This tragedy has become a lightening rod and WBUR should not be perpetuating this anti-immigrant fervor in this way, but rather should be redirecting the conversation to where it belongs, which is on the issue of drunk driving.

    • middlechamber

      It is a lightning rod because this has happened more than just once or twice or three times or a dozen times. Most times when Illegals get stopped they NEVER get a TICKET because the officers know #1 they have no ID #2 they don’t give their real name, #3 they never go to court, and finding them is impossible they are like roaches scattering when you turn on the light!
      Many Illegals when stopped have multiple EBT cards under different names sucking the needed relief from REAL AMERICANS that DESERVE WELFARE

      • Aron

        BENGHAZI!!!!!!

      • ErikKengaard

        Remember Jamiel Shaw. Your congressman considers these deaths collateral damage in the quest to bring in cheap labor.

    • wigglwagon

      Sara, no matter how people try to spin it, Matthew Denice would not have been killed if the immigration laws were being enforced.

      Illegal immigration will continue to be a major problem until Congress passes a bill mandating prison time for the employers of illegal workers.

      That would immediately eliminate largest part of the problem. Doing that 30 years ago would have saved the lives of the thousands of people who died in the desert while coming here for jobs. That would also put at least 8 million American workers back on jobs and paying taxes instead of needing to collect unemployment and welfare. That would go a long way toward eliminating the annual deficit.

      Now they are hauling the illegal workers north in 44 passenger tour buses instead of the 15 passenger vans they used before Mr. Deporter-in Chief took office.

      • middlechamber

        There are laws on the books NO ONE ENFORCES THEM! I am a contractor and back in the 80′s laws were passed back then, it’s the DEMOCRATS that refuse to enforce them in this state as well as it being an only 1 party state, and we have Urkel for a governor

        • JS

          The laws on the books are inadequate. A factory in New Bedford was raided a few years ago. The undocumented workers got hauled away and locked up for days. The owners sent their lawyers to court, filed papers, and that was it. They probably got a small fine, paid by the company and not them personally. One was even quickly away on a Caribbean vacation while the workers still sat in jail.

          All legal, all according to the laws.

      • B. R. Fly

        “Illegal immigration will continue to be a major problem until Congress passes a bill mandating prison time for the employers of illegal workers.”

        You had me here.

        “Now they are hauling the illegal workers north in 44 passenger tour buses instead of the 15 passenger vans they used before Mr. Deporter-in Chief took office.”

        Lost me there.
        So much more could be done for this country if people could just get over their ODS. (Obama Derangement Syndrome)
        This problem preceded him and it will be there when he leaves office because no one wants to pay 40$ an hour per person for landscaping.

        • pjinaries

          Wasn’t even Mitt Romney at one time hiring an illegal housekeeper?

        • wigglwagon

          You are an idiot. It is the time frame. The problem has gotten worse. Go back to school simpleton. No matter how much you like Obama, the problem has gotten worse since he took office.

          • B. R. Fly

            “the problem has gotten worse since he took office.”

            Says the person who called him “Deporter in Chief”.
            Which is it?? Is he deporting people at record rates or is he bussing them up from Mexico in bigger busses???

            You have ODS.

          • Rebelle59

            Obama and his henchmen are cooking the books on deportations in order to trick fools like you into spreading his lies

        • http://www.Remember1986.com/ Brandy Baron

          FYI… we will never have to pay $40 an hour for landscaping as long as we put the people to work who are mooching off/working the system. There are countless able-bodied people on welfare who have made it a career choice. Tell them if they want to collect a check they have to work and then tell farmers, ranchers, landscaping businesses, maid services, car washes, construction, etc. business that if they want cheap labor they can use these welfare mooches and send payment to DES to be paid to the workers through them.
          There are plenty of solutions IF we stop coddling people and making it easy for them to sit on their butts.

    • Thinkfreeer

      No, it is also an immigration issue. The point is that if someone doesn’t care about our immigration laws they are not likely to care about our other laws. They only care about themselves and not our society.

    • http://www.Remember1986.com/ Brandy Baron

      FYI… if our immigration laws had been enforced and our borders were secured THE WAY THEY SHOULD BE, this illegal would have been deported and kept from returning… which means he wouldn’t have been here in our country to drive drunk and kill this young man. That is the difference between illegals/’non-immigrants’ and immigrants (citizen and non-citizen), legal residents and American citizens. (I included ‘non-immigrants’ with illegals because people who are in our country illegally are NOT IMMIGRANTS. We have an immigration process and in order to be an immigrant foreigners have to follow it. Illegal aliens have no respect for our immigration process/laws or our borders…. which means they have no respect for our country or our people. Why would anyone want people like that in their home/country?

    • ErikKengaard

      Remember Jamiel Shaw. Where did all those gang members come from?

    • YourMomsCat

      Case and point: Literalism is a disease

  • middlechamber

    Maybe just maybe if they had come in LEGALLY, NOT BELONG TO GANGS and LEARNED ENGLISH, and weren’t a FINANCIAL BURDEN on every village, town & city because of them requiring TRANSLATORS in SCHOOLS, SPECIAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS, maybe they would receive a better welcome. But instead they suck the life out of everything they touch and never give back except to themselves. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! and you better respect cico de mayo, and all of out flags that thell you we refuse to become Americans but you Better keep paying or we will trash your place even more!
    ANYONE EVER SEE WHAT POLUTION THESE PIGS HAVE CREATED IN THE PRISTINE DESERTS ON THEIR WAY HERE?

    • JS

      Maybe if people stopped hiring them they wouldn’t come so much. How about transferring some of that anger to the contractors, construction, and landscape firms hiring them? But then suburban Americans would have to pay more for such services, can’t have that, can we?

      • ErikKengaard

        We are up against the 1% who are spending over one billion on congress to get a cheap labor amnesty passed. Ask your representative, and be prepared for a lot of smoke in your face.

        • http://www.Remember1986.com/ Brandy Baron

          Then it’s up to us to keep our money away from those businesses that support/hire cheap illegal labor. All the cheap labor in the world won’t make them more money if consumers stop buying/cut down on buying what they provide.

          • ErikKengaard

            That is a big If . . . and it won’t happen. We’d have better luck pushing for a higher minimum wage, for all employment.

          • http://www.Remember1986.com/ Brandy Baron

            I do it and it’s not hard at all… unless the consumer is every bit as greedy and selfish as the employers in what they want. I can see that you haven’t owned a business or you wouldn’t be pushing a higher minimum wage. Business owners don’t go into business just to pay their employees. They do it to make money. They have a basic formula (payroll percentage/percentage of payroll in sales) to determine how much of the money they make can go to payroll. If minimum wage is raised they will have to cut payroll cost in some way to compensate for that raise… which means they will simply cut employees’ hours or cut employees’ jobs. In the end, the employees end up making the same amount with less hours or end up making no money and looking for another job.

          • ErikKengaard

            I didn’t say I’m for a minimum wage – just that a higher minimum wage is a more likely political outcome than is a more restrictive immigration policy.

  • J__o__h__n

    He wasn’t driving without a license; he was an undocumented driver. Drunk is kind of judgmental; how about non-sober driver.

  • pjinaries

    Milford does have it’s driving problems. Years ago, the Milford police chief was found to be driving for FIVE Years without a license.

  • ErikKengaard

    The 1%, in their cold blooded calculations, consider these events collateral damage in their quest for cheap labor. Even now, they are working to attach an amnesty to a must pass military spending bill. And where are the people? Asleep.

    • Jeremy Martin M

      1%? I don’t think so. Ever eat out ? Chances are good that the people who cook your food and wash your dishes are illegal immigrants. The people upholding lax immigration are the well-to-do, not billionaires. Think of that next time the news drags on about how white kids can’t get summer jobs. Why? Because they won’t do the work that illegals do, it’s beneath most of them.

      • ErikKengaard

        Did you see the signatures from 100 CEOs on a letter to the President encouraging amnesty? Do you know how much business is spending on lobbying congress to import more workers?

  • katznkatz

    Well immigration IS a HUGE issue. Fighting about it among citizens that are here LEGALLY is not going to improve anything. You are here legally great!! We need your tax dollars. Your here illegally out you go……. We need to send THE message to our reps. Starting on the local level…..

  • crescentfang

    It would be foolish to assume that people who are breaking the immigration laws are going to obey the traffic laws. Knowing our state, they would probably hire Hispanics to give the tests and print the written tests in Spanish.

  • YourMomsCat

    Another puff piece making illegals the victims

  • gossipy

    Brandy Baron, the voice of reason.

  • Pav Sterry

    Mathew Denice would be alive if Nicolas Dutan Guaman had been detained and deported when he was arrested. Mandatory E-Verify , swift deportations and heavy fines for employers would end this.

  • D. G.

    One thing to think about is this: The drunk driver (Guaman) used the defense that did not understand the word “Stop” which the witnesses were shouting – after he hit Denice. If true, that he does not understand English well, this is a strong argument in favor of not letting anyone into the USA, unless they are fluent in English.

  • Rebelle59

    The majority of Americans do not want to give millions of these illegals citizenship and our president just released 36000 criminals into our communities , time for us to stop this illegal invasion of our country.My sincere sympathies to Mr. Denies family and shame on our leaders. For allowing these puns to kill our kids!

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