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Hit & Run in Rhode Island

From the Providence Journal Newspaper

The penalty for his choice
Jose M. Cordeiro sentenced for hit-and-run crash that left young girl severely injured


   PROVIDENCE — Nancy Ramos was a happy 15-year-old when she left her family’s apartment in the Codding Court public housing to meet a new friend on Columbus Day weekend in 2009.

   About two hours later she was fighting for her life at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, where she was taken after having been run down by a Jeep operated by a hit-and-run driver on Narragansett Boulevard in the Washington Park neighborhood. She was hospitalized for seven months.

   Having suffered a broken left leg and a brain injury, a 17-year-old Nancy now spends her days in a wheelchair, partially paralyzed, in a long-term-care facility.    “Her reaction is, ‘Why me,’ ” a sister, Damaris Martinez, said recently.

   The driver was Jose M. Cordeiro, an auto-body repairman nicknamed “Joe Maaco,” for the Maaco chain of auto-paint shops, who was at the wheel of a customer’s vehicle. He had picked up the Jeep about one hour before the accident. Afterward, he left it at the customer’s house with more damage, according to court evidence.

   Thursday was Cordeiro’s day of reckoning, in Superior Court. Cordeiro, with a crumpled tissue in his hand, and Nancy’s family began crying midway through a sentencing hearing.

   He pleaded guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident, with serious bodily injury resulting. Judge Netti C. Vogel imposed a prison sentence of 10 years, with 5 to serve at the Adult Correctional Institutions and the rest suspended with probation.

   She ordered that his driver’s license be suspended for two years and that if it is reinstated, his car for two years must have an ignition interlock device that prevents him from turning on the engine until he has breathed into the device to prove that he has not consumed alcohol.

   Vogel recited the facts of the case, including Cordeiro’s admission that he stopped the vehicle, opened the driver’s side door, looked back, and then took off after the impact, which the police said threw Nancy 71 feet.

   Cordeiro left her in the street “like road kill,” Vogel said.

   “You made a choice. … You had to know that she was suffering.”

   Cordeiro, 57, of 11 Paula Lane, Johnston, and a citizen of the Azores, faces possible deportation as a result of the conviction, Vogel pointed out.

   John E. MacDonald, one of Cordeiro’s lawyers, told the judge that his client is the father of a 25-year-old son who is housebound in a wheelchair and for whom Cordeiro is the sole financial support. He asked Vogel to see that Cordeiro have work release while at the ACI so Cordeiro could continue to earn money. But she left that decision to the Department of Corrections.

   Yadira Martinez, another of Nancy’s sisters, gave a victim-impact statement on behalf of Nancy, who relatives said could not be brought to court.

   “You took something very special from us. … ,” Martinez said. “I want you to look at me. You made us suffer. …”

   In Portuguese translated to English, Cordeiro said later, “I am very, very, very sorry for what happened to their little girl.”

   “Every day in the evening, I pray for that young lady. …”

   Said Vogel, “I think that the family must have taken some solace from your tears.”

   Some of the common reasons for hit-and-run accidents, according to the police, is that the driver has been drinking alcohol and fears the consequences of that, has an outstanding arrest warrant, and/or is driving without a license.

   Vogel referred to Cordeiro’s two previous convictions for driving while intoxicated and said she does not know if he was drunk in this case because he fled the scene.

   “You were an accident waiting to happen,” she declared.

   Court evidence shows that Cordeiro admitted that he had been drinking before the accident. In a statement to the police, Cordeiro said he remembers nothing between 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on the night of the accident, Oct. 10, 2009. Nancy was struck at 7:58 p.m.

   “Cordeiro was highly intoxicated when his wife, Nellie, arrived to pick him up” on Park Avenue, Cranston, later that night, a police report states.

   Cordeiro was not charged with drunken driving. If he had been, he would have faced a more severe sentence, according to Sgt. Paul F. Zienowicz, commander of the Providence police traffic-services unit.

   Detectives did not identify Cordeiro as the driver and locate him until the day after the accident. So too much time had passed, the police noted, to get a usable test of his blood alcohol content. Even if they could, he mighthave been drinking after the accident as well, spoiling any potential link that might have been made between the accident and the alcohol.

   Cordeiro’s case was resolved as the General Assembly considers proposals to beef up the laws on hit-and-run accidents and drunken driving, among other motor-vehicle legislation.

   In 2011, there were about 20 serious hit-and-run accidents statewide, of which 3 were fatalities, according to Sen. Edward J. O’Neill, an independent who represents a district in Lincoln, Pawtucket and North Providence, and sponsor of a bill that would stiffen the penalties for hit-and-runs.

   In Providence alone, there are about 2,600 hit-and-run accidents annually, most of which involve only property damage. 

   (401) 277-7334


   Jose M. Cordeiro appears in court Thursday with defense attorney John MacDonald, left, and interpreter Dalila Ferreira.

Nancy Ramos, shown in a family photo, was 15 when she was run down by a hit-and-run driver on Narragansett Boulevard, Providence, on Oct. 10, 2009. The accident left her partially paralyzed and confined to an undisclosed rehabilitation facility.

THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL / CONNIE GROSCH———————————————————————————-
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