A parent’s pain of losing a child never goes away, and even more so when the death could have been prevented by government doing its basic job of protecting public safety.
In Alabama, Dan Mattle has begun to speak out in favor of his state’s restrictive immigration law, which has been called tougher than Arizona’s. His 19-year-old son Tad was killed by a previously arrested drunk-driving illegal alien who crashed into the Mattle car at a stoplight as the speeding Mexican fled from the police. Tad’s girlfriend Leigh Anna Jimmerson, 16, was also killed in the collision.
(See my article “Diversity Is . . . Drunk Driving” for background showing how hispanic culture celebrates inebriated vehicle operation as a desirably macho behavior. Even NPR agrees that “Latinos are responsible for a disproportionate number of DWI arrests and alcohol-related car accidents.”)
The couple is shown in the photo at right; the inset picture is of Felix Ortega, the habitual criminal who killed them.
Dan Mattle has spoken on talk radio and wrote an opinion piece (below) supporting immigration law enforcement:
Alabama Voices: Alabama’s new immigrant law needed, Montgomery Advertiser, August 6, 2011
As the father of Tad Mattle, killed along with his girlfriend in a horrific accident in Huntsville two years ago caused by the illegal immigrant Felix Ortega, I experienced first-hand results of unrestricted illegal immigration.
The driver was not just seeking a better life in the United States. He was a repeat offender with at least four DUIs, was wanted in at least four other states for both misdemeanors and felonies, had five different aliases, and was supposed to have been deported in 2001.
Because I support Alabama’s HB 56 to enforce laws against illegal immigration, I have been accused of not being Christian. I can no longer maintain silence.
Where in Jesus Christ’s teachings did he advocate flagrant violation of a nation’s laws? How is violating immigration laws and flaunting it in front of those who followed the legal process Christ-like? The willingness of HB 56’s detractors to overlook unfettered illegal immigration is just the sort of mindset that allows hardened criminals into our country.
I ask how Christian is it to allow evil men into our country to rob, maim and/or kill innocent, law-abiding citizens just to demonstrate your pious compassion? Where’s the compassion for innocent victims? (continues)
Dan Mattle’s sensible response to preventable crime was featured recently:
For Huntsville couple still grieving son’s loss, illegal immigration debate is deeply personal, AL.com, by Steve Doyle, Huntsville Times, August 15, 2011
Dan Mattle and his wife, Terri, don’t consider themselves especially political.
But when critics hammered Alabama’s new immigration act as mean-spirited and racist, the south Huntsville couple decided to speak up in support of the Republican-sponsored bill.
In late June, Dan Mattle made his first appearance on talk radio and wrote his first letter to the editor.
GOP legislators are “making up for the fact that the federal government is derelict in its (immigration enforcement) duty,” he said this month. “None of these laws would have passed if they’d been doing their job.”
Immigration became a deeply personal issue for the Mattles just before 9 p.m. on April 17, 2009.
Their oldest son, Tad, was stopped in traffic at the busy intersection of Whitesburg Drive and Airport Road when Felix Dominguez Ortega, an undocumented resident fleeing from Huntsville police, slammed into the back of Tad’s Toyota Supra.
Police estimated Ortega’s pickup truck was traveling nearly 70 miles an hour; no skid marks were found.
Tad, a 19-year-old Eagle Scout who had just earned a full academic scholarship to the University of Alabama in Huntsville, died in the fiery crash along with his girlfriend, Grissom High School sophomore Leigh Anna Jimmerson.
Ortega, with a blood-alcohol content more than three times the legal limit, survived.
“Everyone calls it an accident,” Mattle said. “But that was no accident – it was a murder scene.”
A native of Mexico, Ortega eventually pleaded guilty to reckless murder and is serving a 15-year sentence at Bibb County Correctional Facility.
Municipal court records show that Ortega had three prior drunk-driving arrests in Huntsville under another name, Juan Sanchez. Police say he also used the aliases Adan Herrera and Reynaldo Martinez.
Mattle, 46, said he hopes Alabama’s immigration law will deter criminals like Ortega from sneaking across the border.
“We’ve got enough criminals of our own that are legal citizens,” he said. “We don’t need to let a bunch more in.”
“There’s probably some fairly decent people coming across, but there’s a significant number of bad people, too.”
An aerospace engineer and Boy Scout leader, Mattle said he would welcome back any immigrant who returns home and applies for a U.S. visa.
“If they want to go back and file the papers and make all the sacrifices that millions of others have made, that’s fine,” he said.
Co-sponsored by state Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, and state Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, Alabama’s new immigration law is considered the strictest in the nation.
It allows local police to detain people suspected of being in the United States illegally, requires public schools to inquire into immigration status of students, makes it a crime for an illegal immigrant to seek work, and also makes it a crime to knowingly transport or harbor an illegal immigrant.
Opponents challenging the law in court argue that it oversteps federal authority and violates the U.S. Constitution.
Plaintiffs include the U.S. Department of Justice, Mexico and 15 Latin American countries, the American Civil Liberties Union, National Immigration Law Center, bishops from the Episcopal, Roman Catholic and Methodist churches – and Huntsville resident Ellin Jimmerson, the mother of Leigh Anna Jimmerson.
A minister to the community from Weatherly Heights Baptist Church, Jimmerson is a longtime advocate for illegal immigrants.
She is in the final stages of editing a documentary film, “The Second Cooler/La segunda nevera,” that explores the reasons behind the surge of migrants into the United States. The title refers to a second body cooler that the Tucson, Ariz., morgue had to install because so many immigrants die attempting to cross the desert.
Jimmerson, who argues in court filings that Alabama’s immigration law could criminalize aspects of her ministry, declined to be interviewed for this story.
Mattle, who attends the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Byrd Spring Road, said he wanted to “lay low” during the immigration debate but had to respond to those who say the new law goes against religious teachings.
“I consider it unchristian to allow illegals to come into the country to kill and maim,” he said. “Where’s those leaders’ compassion for what we’ve gone through?”
‘I just knew’
Tad had things planned out.
His 32 ACT score had earned him a four-year scholarship to UAH, where he would major in mechanical engineering. Afterward, he would open his own auto body repair shop, maybe go on a Mormon mission to Germany.
He and Leigh Anna seemed destined to marry.
“They were starting to make plans,” Dan Mattle said.
Tad and Leigh Anna spent the evening of the crash helping Mattle celebrate his 44th birthday at a church social. Before driving away, Tad gave his father a card.
He signed it, “Thanks for putting up with all the shenanigans.”
Later that night, the Mattles heard a knock at the front door. Terri figured Tad had forgotten his house key. Instead, it was two Huntsville police officers.
“They didn’t have to say anything,” Terri said. “I just knew.”
After the funeral, Mattle dealt with his grief by restoring a 1985 Toyota Supra that Tad bought just before his death. He finally got it running in October.
“Part of my therapy was rebuilding that car,” Mattle said. “I knew how excited he was about that car, and I just kind of took over where Tad left off.”
Ortega pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless murder on Aug. 30, 2010. Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis O’Dell sentenced him to 15 years for each count, but under Alabama law consecutive sentences – one after the another – cannot be applied to traffic death cases.
Ortega will be eligible for parole in 2024.
Although they did not oppose the plea deal, the Mattles say a life sentence would have been more appropriate.
“People see (Ortega) every day,” Terri Mattle said. “The only way we can see Tad is at Maple Hill Cemetery.”
“I wake up sometimes and think, ‘Oh, he’s coming home.’ But he’s not coming home,” she said, “and it hurts.”
The Mattles recently got some much-needed good news: son Andrew, 20, was awarded the same Presidential Full Scholarship to UAH that Tad had won.
Daughter Deanta, 15, just started her sophomore year at Grissom.
‘Good starting place’
State Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, said critics of the immigration law have “misinterpreted” its intent.
A former state trooper, Ball sees the bill as a lifeline for Alabama’s working poor. Legal residents who aspire to jobs as brick masons and roofers can’t get a foot in the door because those fields are increasingly dominated by illegal immigrants, he said.
Ball operated a roofing company for several years but said he could not compete price-wise with contractors that avoid payroll taxes and insurance by using illegal workers.
“I understand the compassion for the immigrants, but what about our working poor that’s here?” he said Friday.
While Ball said he expects parts of the bill will have to be rewritten, he is hopeful that it will survive the legal challenges.
“This was not a magic wand that solves everything,” he said, “but it’s a good starting place.”