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As the Ceran family prepares to lay a mother and her two children to rest this weekend, some Utahns are expressing outrage over the news that the man being accused of causing the tragic DUI crash is here in this country illegally.

Since federal immigration officials confirmed that 24-year-old Carlos Rodolfo Prieto is an illegal immigrant, those advocating strict enforcement of immigration laws are saying this tragedy could have been avoided if lawmakers cracked down on illegal immigration.

Those visiting KSL-TV Ch. 5's Web site, KSL.com, have sparked a heated debate over the tragedy and its implications to the illegal immigration debate with over 200 posted comments.

"This guy was illegal and with most illegals they do not respect our laws. Why, because if they did they would not be ILLEGALS! I am a firm believer that there are many more that have committed or on their way to committing tragedies such as this," one KSL viewer wrote.

Others say the fact that Prieto is here illegally has no bearing on the fact that DUI is a serious issue on its own.

"This story is about a drunk driver. Why are we talking about immigration? Unfortunately, we are not all on the same page," another KSL viewer wrote.

"You don't have to be an illegal immigrant to break the laws on driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Alcoholism and substance abuse are equal opportunity addictions and do not discriminate based on race, religion, creed or gender," a different viewer responded.

The accident, anti-illegal immigration advocates say, is an example of the problems illegal immigrants bring into the country.

"I feel for the family," said Alex Segura, head of the Utah Minutemen Project, "but we can't forget that if he had not been in the country illegally then this man would still have his family."

On Thursday, prosecutors filed three counts of automobile homicide, a third-degree felony; two counts of driving under the influence and causing bodily injury, also a third-degree felony; and misdemeanor charges of DUI and not having a driver's license against Prieto.

Prieto is accused of running a red light at the intersection of 700 West and 5400 South early Sunday, smashing into a car carrying six members of the Ceran family, who were returning home from a Christmas party at the Hale Centre Theater.

Cheryl Ceran and her 15-year-old son, Ian, and 7-year-old daughter, Julianna, were killed. Husband Gary Ceran and two other children, 19-year-old Clarissa and 12-year-old Caleb, survived but were hospitalized.

Police say Prieto's blood alcohol level was over the legal limit of .08 percent. He is being held in the Salt Lake County Jail on $500,000 bail and a no-bail immigration detainer.

Federal immigration agents say they will wait until Utah's justice system has adjudicated Prieto before seeking his deportation back to Mexico.

"We wouldn't take custody of him until the time local authorities are ready to release him," said Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Given the serious prison time Prieto faces if found guilty, Kice said it may be some time before his deportation becomes an issue. However, she said it will be up to the state to determine how much prison time is served before there is a deportation.

Some groups have claimed Prieto had been deported to Mexico once before. Federal immigration officials say they have no such record. "We have determined that he has no prior immigration arrest history and has no immigration record," Kice said.

Such groups have also claimed illegal immigrants are to be blamed for a large number of crimes in the United States. Segura pointed to a vague study that supposedly showed more Americans have died as a result of fatal DUI accidents by illegal immigrants than all the U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq.

"That sounds kind of far-fetched," said Utah Highway Patrol spokesman Jeff Nigbur, who said the state does not track which fatal DUI accidents are caused by illegal aliens. However, state DUI statistics show overall fatal crash fatalities related to DUI have actually fallen within the past decade.

From 1996 through 2005, the percentage of crash fatalities attributed to DUI fell from 27.4 percent to 13.1 percent.

However, some people have expressed concern that, if convicted, Prieto will not serve much prison time before being deported.

"If they just deport him he'll be back next week and he'll get off scot free. I hate to say this, because it's a waste of taxpayer money, but he needs to spend time in jail," Segura said.

Michael Clara, co-chairman of the Utah Hispanic Legislative Task Force, typically doesn't agree with the Utah Minutemen, but in this case he does.

"If undocumented people are going to be in the United States, we need to treat them with equity," including jobs and opportunities. Clara said this also should include serving punishment for crimes.

Clara said it's unfortunate that some have used this tragedy to further what he sees as racist feelings.

"We cannot use a broad brush against a whole class of race of people based on their national origins because of the actions of a few," he said. "I think it's bigotry."


E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com