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Feds request hit-and-run suspect held

A judge rules the state can't hold the passenger, but the government is investigating his immigration status.

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 14, 2001


DADE CITY -- The federal government will order a man charged with leaving the scene of an accident that killed an off-duty policeman and his wife to remain in jail, even though a judge ruled the state may not be able to keep him there.

According to court records, Circuit Judge William Webb found Sunday the state did not have adequate probable cause to hold Robert Ramirez-Alfaro in jail on two charges of leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

Ramirez-Alfaro was riding in a truck driven by Jose Rodriguez-Ernandez, 20, about 11 a.m. Saturday south of Zephyrhills when the truck crashed into a sport utility vehicle being driven by Zephyrhills Detective Harvey "Butch" Hillis Jr. and carrying his wife, Donna, authorities say.

Both the Hillises died Saturday and funeral services were held Wednesday.

Prosecutor Phil Van Allen said Wednesday the judge questioned the charge given that Ramirez-Alfaro, 24, was not accused of being the driver of the truck that hit the couple.

Both Ramirez-Alfaro and driver Rodriguez-Ernandez were arrested and charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident after authorities said they tried to drive away from the scene.

Rodriguez-Ernandez was ordered held at the Pasco County jail at Land O'Lakes on $200,000 bail and remained there Wednesday night. Ramirez-Alfaro's bail had been set at $150,000, although the probable cause had become an issue. He remained in jail Wednesday.

Without a judge's finding of probable cause, the state must release a prisoner within 72 hours. An investigator noted on his case that Ramirez-Alfaro's is considered a flight risk.

Van Allen said Ramirez-Alfaro will remain in jail, even without a probable cause ruling, because the federal government has questions about his immigration status.

Van Allen said the state plans to file formal charges and continue to investigate Ramirez-Alfaro's involvement.

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