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Plea Bargain Struck In Drunken-Driving Case; Wheaton Man Admits Guilt In 4-Car Crash In April That Killed 11-Year-Old Boy

Drunken Driving case Montgomery County Court | Defense attorney Leonard Stamm

Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 16, 1998 ; Page B05

A Wheaton man with a history of drunken driving pleaded guilty yesterday to driving drunk and causing a four-car collision in April that killed an 11-year-old Takoma Park boy as he rode home from an Easter Sunday gathering with family friends.

Under the plea agreement in the case, prosecutors agreed to dismiss an earlier drunken-driving case against the man, Leonilo Urbano Figueroa, 32, and to dismiss traffic charges against him, according to his attorney.

Figueroa was driving on a temporary license at the time of the April collision because police had confiscated his regular license three weeks earlier when they arrested him on a drunken-driving charge. Figueroa was convicted in Montgomery County District Court in September on that drunken driving charge but appealed the conviction to Circuit Court. That is the case being dismissed.

Montgomery County police said the collision, which also injured 12 people, spread wreckage almost a mile along Darnestown Road and was one of the worst they had seen in years.

Figueroa pleaded guilty in Circuit Court to manslaughter by motor vehicle, homicide by motor vehicle, driving while intoxicated, failing to stop after an accident and homicide while under the influence of alcohol. His sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 18.

The charges carry a maximum of 10 years in prison, but non-binding sentencing guidelines call for probation to three years, said Assistant State's Attorney Cheryl McCally. She did not return calls seeking comment on the plea agreement.

Figueroa, a restaurant cook from Mexico, said little through his Spanish interpreter except to tell Judge Nelson W. Rupp Jr. his address, age and occupation. As McCally described the chain of events that left 11-year-old Niranjen "Alvin" Jonathan dead, Figueroa bowed his head slightly and stared at the defense table as the interpreter whispered in his ear.

"By pleading guilty today, Mr. Figueroa is accepting full responsibility for what happened," his attorney, Leonard R. Stamm, said after the hearing. "He's basically a good person, but he has a very severe alcohol problem and he needs treatment."

Figueroa was driving west on Darnestown Road (Route 28) in a red 1998 Toyota 4Runner about 8 p.m. April 12 when he forced at least one car off the road and repeatedly swerved across the center line near Riffle Ford Road, McCally said.

Figueroa's vehicle first hit a 1993 Chevrolet driven by a nun, McCally said. After driving another mile and running off the side of the road, Figueroa crossed the center line and hit a car carrying a Bethesda couple returning home from celebrating their 46th wedding anniversary, said police and the couple's family.

With his Toyota 4Runner out of control, Figueroa then struck a 1996 Dodge minivan, slamming into the back passenger seat where Alvin sat listening on a headset to his idol Michael Jordan play a basketball game.

Almost four hours after the collision, McCally told the judge, Figueroa's blood alcohol content was measured at 0.22, more than twice the legal limit for driving. Among the wreckage, police said they found an empty Miller Lite 12-pack box and a beer can under the 4Runner's passenger seat.

Figueroa, who prosecutors said has a wife and child in Mexico, is a legal U.S. resident, Stamm said.

Legal residents convicted of aggravated felonies, including manslaughter and drunken driving, face possible deportation, said John Shallman, spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Articles appear as they were originally printed in The Washington Post and may not include subsequent corrections.