04/04/06 — Driver could be out in 14 days

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Driver could be out in 14 days

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on April 4, 2006 2:00 PM

The driver who hit two Greenwood Middle School students as they crossed Ash Street last year near the school will spend about two more weeks in jail, a judge decided Monday.

Wilder Fidelmar Mejia Alvarado, 20, of Bennett's Bridge Road, Mount Olive, was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Jerry Braswell to 150 days in prison, with 136 days credit for time served. Alvarado could face deportation to his native Guatemala.

Braswell said Immigration and Naturalization Service officials have been contacted.

"The intent of my sentence is to keep the defendant in custody until (the INS) can complete the process," Braswell said.

District Attorney Branny Vickory said if the INS has not completed its case by the end of the two-week period, Mejia Alvarado will be turned over to intensive probation.

Mejia Alvarado gave police another name when he was arrested, and investigators found that he used at least six aliases.

The two 13-year-old eighth-graders, Mackenzie Wessels and Carson Thomas, were struck at about 7:30 a.m. Nov. 18, 2005, by a white Ford Explorer as they used the crosswalk with a green walk light between Meadowlane Elementary School and Greenwood.

Both students were rushed by ambulance to Wayne Memorial Hospital, where they were stabilized and then transferred to Pitt County Memorial Hospital in critical condition.

Wessels was released after about a week. He attended the sentencing hearing, but was on crutches and did not speak in court.

Thomas spent a much longer time in the hospital but has returned home. Vickory, who presented the state's case, said Thomas "was profoundly brain-injured."

When Mejia Alvarado was arrested at the scene by Officer Steve Powers, he gave the name Luis Delgado Jesus. At the time, he was charged only with four traffic offenses -- reckless driving, driving while his license was revoked, a stoplight violation and an expired registration. Those charges were dismissed as part of a plea bargain.

Vickory said the car dealer who sold the sport utility vehicle to Mejia Alvarado under a different name, Fernando Torres, identified Mejia Alvarado as the same man.

Vickory said two witnesses said they heard the Ford Explorer speed up just before it struck the boys. One said the traffic light had been red on Ash Street for five to seven seconds.

Duplin County authorities and his defense lawyers, Vickory argued, had identified the driver as Wilder Mejia. He carried a Guatemalan passport with the name Wilder Mejia Alvarado. The defendant also had a fake Mexican driver's license, the prosecutor said.

Vickory discounted a theory that Mejia Alvarado had fallen asleep, or was blinded by the sun, moments before the collisions.

"He was not a legal alien, but an illegal alien who was doing everything he could to stay here," Vickory said.

Defense lawyer Robert M. Smith, who was assisted by Billy Strickland II, said Mejia Alvarado has been remorseful.

He had worked the third shift at Mission Foods and went to get something for his pregnant wife.

Smith said his client understood the gravity of the situation.

Mackenzie's father, Dean Wessels, said he would not be forgiving.

"What he did was wrong," he told the court about the driver. "We want justice, and we want the maximum allowable punishment."

Julie Wessels said Mejia Alvarado might be remorseful but her son is still recovering from injuries.

Carson Thomas' mother, Heather, with her voice breaking, said she could not communicate with her son. She thanked the community for its support.

Before pronouncing sentence, Braswell said he knew what the parents had endured because his own daughter was seriously injured in an accident.

Braswell sentenced Mejia Alvarado to two consecutive terms of 75 days in prison, 20 to 33 months suspended and 24 months supervised probation.

The defendant was credited with the 136 days that he had spent in jail awaiting sentencing.