Immigrant Song

Last month, a Mesa mother of six was killed in a car accident. Within days, she'd been made a martyr by the anti-illegal-immigration movement.

Nanuma Lavulavu died when a 26-year-old Mexican national intentionally hit another car on the road. Guadalupe Perez-Bojorquez, according to the sheriff's report, admitted to being in this country illegally. He also admitted to snorting cocaine, ramming an SUV driven by an undercover sheriff's deputy, and fleeing the scene after the deputy crashed into Lavulavu's car.

In her 46 years, Lavulavu lived a quiet, anonymous existence. In death, she's become the poster child for an angry crowd convinced that immigrants are flooding our borders and wreaking havoc on our American way of life.

Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts, the town crier for the anti-illegal set, called Lavulavu one in "the long, sad parade of people who were killed because our government can't or won't do what it takes to get control of the border." Google Lavulavu's name, and you'll get more than 400 hits, most of them linking to Roberts' story or echoing her perspective. You'll even find a Web site memorializing every American killed by an illegal alien.

But Lavulavu's life, and death, were far from the simple anti-immigration homily that Roberts portrayed them to be.

Really, when it comes to the immigration issue, there are no simple answers. We can squawk all we want about amnesty or shutting the border. The real solution is a lot more complicated.

It's the same with our individual stories. As writers, or bloggers, we can make someone the villain and someone else the innocent victim. But any time we bother to dig below the surface, the story gets messier.

That's as true for Nanuma Lavulavu, and the accident that killed her, as anything.

First off, Lavulavu herself was an immigrant — and was married for decades to a man who broke the law to help other immigrants stay here illegally.

Second, while the sheriff's report on the accident clearly indicates that Guadalupe Perez-Bojorquez was a reckless driver, it also raises questions about the deputy whose SUV struck Lavulavu.

After reading the 166-page report, I fully believe that Perez-Bojorquez engaged in violent behavior that triggered a terrible series of events.

But I'm also convinced of this: Nanuma Lavulavu's death could have been prevented if only the sheriff's deputy who hit her was a better driver.

There are a lot of things in the sheriff's report that make no sense, chiefly that, in its telling, a Mexican who's here illegally decides for no reason whatsoever to ram an SUV that pulls up behind him.

It's inexplicable behavior. But there are eyewitnesses who saw the deputy being rear-ended. The witnesses also saw him follow the SUV to continue the attack — leaving no question that Guadalupe Perez-Bojorquez is to blame for what happened, even if no one can explain why he'd behave so strangely. (The deputy claims Perez-Bojorquez was throwing empty beer bottles out the window, but no other witnesses have provided confirmation on that point.)

And so it's clearly not the fault of Maricopa County Sheriff's Deputy Robin Kinnett that his Ford Expedition was rear-ended. What's troubling is that, after the collision, Kinnett didn't pull over. He didn't even call for backup.

Instead, by his own telling, Kinnett did a U-turn in a parking lot, then pulled back into a busy intersection.

According to one witness, Kinnett was driving so quickly that he cut off another driver to get into the left-turn lane.

At that point, Perez-Bojorquez rammed Kinnett's Expedition again. This time, the Expedition plowed right into another car — the one driven by Nanuma Lavulavu.

Finally, Kinnett called 911. But instead of immediately begging for an ambulance for Lavulavu, Kinnett's focus was entirely on himself.

"I got a vehicle that just ran me off the road," Kinnett announced.

This self-absorption would be understandable in most cases; Kinnett had just gone through a harrowing ordeal. But he'd been a cop for more than 15 years — and still, the dispatcher had to tell Kinnett, twice, to stop screaming into the phone. Even after that, Kinnett took the time to explain his position with the sheriff's office before he got around to mentioning that another driver needed an ambulance.

It's the perfect metaphor for Nanuma Lavulavu's tragic end: Everybody has been too busy shouting about peripheral issues to look at what really happened on the night of June 19.

And what happened is cause for concern. There's no reason that Deputy Kinnett should still be on the road, especially in a sheriff's department Expedition.

He certainly could have handled this one differently.

He could have pulled off the road after Perez-Bojorquez hit him the first time — and stayed there long enough to call for backup, or even 911.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske