Jamie and James Bates had been waiting for this day.
They wanted to tell Guadalupe Dominquez-Falcon what his decision to drink and drive meant for them and their 5-year-old son.
The Bateses were driving down Pass Road the night of Aug. 7, on their way to celebrate their son’s entry into kindergarten.
They thought a bomb had gone off. Their Ford F-150 seemed to lift off the ground.
Then a Toyota truck screeched past. A wheel from the truck bounced down the road. Sparks flew from the axle. The Toyota truck had clipped the driver’s rear and back side of their pickup.
When their Ford stopped, Jamie Bates, in the front passenger seat, looked back at her son. His face was white, but he was secure in his car seat with 5-point harness. He almost whispered, “What happened?”
Dominquez-Falcon, who works at El Nopal Mexican Restaurant in Long Beach, pleaded no contest Monday in Gulfport Municipal Court to driving under the influence, and driving without a license and insurance. Ironically, the maximum sentence for driving without a license in Mississippi is 180 days, compared to only two days for a misdemeanor DUI.
Judge Kirk Clark laid the maximum on Dominquez-Falcon, 182 days, but he could have been out of jail by Tuesday morning under other circumstances. The no-contest plea allows a person to post bond and appeal the conviction to County Court.
There was a complicating factor in this case. Dominquez-Falcon is from Guatemala. An agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement sat in the back of the courtroom during the DUI hearing.
Once court was over, ICE put a hold on Dominquez-Falcon because he has been convicted of a crime without legal status as a citizen, said his attorney, Lee Russell.
“He’s facing a much greater sentence than the average person,” Russell said, “in that he will be deported.”
Russell said Dominquez-Falcon has lived in the country almost 16 years and has children who are American citizens.
“My husband and I don’t want him deported until all this is taken care of,” Jamie Bates said. “We want this conviction on his record. He got here the first time. He’ll be back.”
The Bateses are baffled that the consequences for DUI in Mississippi are so inconsequential, as they see it. Dominquez-Falcon has been convicted twice before of DUI, they learned, in Kentucky. But those convictions were more than five years old. A third conviction is a felony only if it occurs within five years of the first two.
They think Mississippi’s DUI laws should be tougher. If someone had stolen $1,000 from their home, they said, it would have been a felony.
James Bates, a former photographer at the Sun Herald, was sore after the accident but has recovered. Jamie Bates, however, suffered a neck injury that put her out of work for a month as a registered nurse. She also spent a month in rehab.
They have a mountain of medical bills. And she doubts her neck will ever feel the same.
“I don’t understand how that can be a misdemeanor when you have caused injury and financial loss to someone, to a great degree,” she said.
More importantly, her sense of security is shaken.
She did not get to tell Dominquez-Falcon how she feels. The judge decided there was no need for the Bateses to speak because he planned to impose the maximum sentence.
The judge told him the accident was just about as bad as it could have been — short of someone dying. Witnesses said Dominquez-Falcon was driving 80 miles per hour or more when he hit the Bateses truck.
After court, Jamie Bates said: “Our lives changed in an instant, and I wanted him to know that . . . He made a decision to get behind the wheel after he had been drinking and he changed lives. We were out for a family night to celebrate. We didn’t have a choice. He did.”