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Published May 06 2013

Mom who pushed for tougher ND drunk driving laws cited for DUI a week after bill signing

BOTTINEAU, N.D. – The mother of two boys killed by a drunken driver last summer was cited for DUI after rolling her car last weekend, just days after she and her husband stood behind Gov. Jack Dalrymple as he signed a bill strengthening the state’s impaired driving penalties.

Sandra P. Hernandez, 30, of Souris, wasn’t hurt in the rollover crash that happened at 9 a.m. Saturday about five miles north and two miles east of Newburg, said Capt. Gary Orluck of the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

Citations were filed Monday in Bottineau County District Court against Hernandez for Class B misdemeanor DUI, as well as failure to give immediate notice of a reportable accident and leaving the scene of an accident with a fixed object, both infractions.

The latter citation indicates the 2004 Pontiac struck a wooden guardrail.

An initial court appearance is set for May 28.

Hernandez and her husband, Juan Ruiz, publicly advocated and testified for stronger DUI laws after their sons, Alaries Ruiz, 5, and Cyris Ruiz, 9, were killed when a pickup truck ran over the tent they were sleeping in at a Lake Metigoshe campground on July 7.

The boys lived in El Paso, Texas, and had traveled to North Dakota to visit their father, who was working in the Oil Patch. Their friend, Anthony Tabarez Jr., 9, of Newburg, also was injured.

That incident happened the day after a vehicle carrying West Fargo parents Aaron and Allison Deutscher and their 18-month-old daughter, Brielle, was hit by a drunken driver headed the wrong way on Interstate 94 near Crystal Springs. All four people died in the crash.

Survivors of those killed in the two tragedies gathered behind Dalrymple on April 29 as he signed into law House Bill 1302, which raises the fine for DUI convictions and toughens penalties for repeat offenders. One media outlet published a photo of Hernandez hugging Dalrymple after the bill signing.

Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, said he was sorry to hear about Hernandez’s accident and hopes she was OK.

“It demonstrates, just drives home again, what a serious problem we have with drinking and driving in North Dakota,” he said.

At last week’s bill-signing ceremony, Juan Ruiz said of the bill: “I wanted change, awareness, responsibility and accountability, and I think this will do that.”

Dalrymple spokesman Jeff Zent said Monday afternoon that the governor’s office hadn’t heard about the citations against Hernandez and had no comment.

Swain Benson Jr., the assistant state’s attorney in Bottineau County, said that because of his involvement in the prosecution of Juan Acosta, the drunken driver convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years in prison for the deaths of the Ruiz brothers, he has a conflict of interest in the Hernandez case and has handed it off to Pierce County State’s Attorney Galen Mack.

A listed phone number for Hernandez could not be found, and one wasn’t listed in court documents. Court records did not list an attorney for her. Attempts to reach her through a listed number for her husband and other means were unsuccessful.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528