VINELAND — City police on Wednesday arrested local resident Anderson Sotomayor on drunken-driving charges for the fifth time in five weeks.
Sotomayor’s arrest included charges that he illegally used the pain-killing drug Oxycodone without a prescription, an offense that allowed authorities to have him lodged in the Cumberland County jail.
Police tried to get an on-call judge to set bail for the 45-year-old Almond Road resident after they arrested him early Saturday morning on drunken-driving charges for the fourth time. The judge declined, saying state law prevented him from setting bail for someone arrested on motor vehicle violations.
Authorities on Wednesday charged Sotomayor with illegal use of a controlled dangerous substance, drunken driving, reckless driving, failure to maintain lane, having an open container of beer in his vehicle and refusing to take a breath test. Municipal Court Judge Michael Kaplan set bail at $10,000 cash on those charges.
Police Capt. Thomas Ulrich said authorities don’t know how long Sotomayor will be lodged in the Cumberland County jail. He said that will be determined by a bail review held in Superior Court likely by Friday.
However, Ulrich said that will at least keep Sotomayor from driving for a few days.
On Wednesday, police said they got a call from a “concerned citizen” who reported that Sotomayor was driving in the area of Park Avenue and Crystal Drive. Police said Patrolman Gary Mollik stopped Sotomayor at that location around noon after watching Sotomayor’s vehicle “weaving in the lane of travel.”
Police said they saw an open container of beer in Sotomayor’s car and arrested him for drunken driving. Sotomayor allegedly admitted during the following investigation to using Oxycodone without a prescription, police said.
Authorities already charged Sotomayor with drunken driving and other offenses for violations that occurred April 9, 11 and 25 and on Saturday. Those offenses involve Sotomayor backing into a police car, hitting a utility pole, driving erratically on Delsea Drive and driving over a curb and winding up on private property. He also hit a school bus April 2, but that offense did not involve drunken driving. No one was injured in any of those incidents.
Officials with the state Motor Vehicle Commission said Tuesday that Sotomayor has a history of convictions for driving violations dating to when he got his license in 1985. Included in Sotomayor’s driving record are convictions for drunken-driving offenses that occurred in Lower Township in 1989 and in Atlantic City in 1992. Sotomayor’s driving privileges were suspended 23 times since the 1989 drunken-driving incident. His driving privileges were only restored in December.
City officials on Tuesday expressed frustration with not being able to stop Sotomayor from driving despite him being arrested four times in five weeks for allegedly being inxoticated while behind the wheel of a car. Mayor Robert Romano, the city’s public safety director, said the only recourse local authorities have is to keep arresting Sotomayor.
On Wednesday, officials with the state’s court system said the on-call judge properly declined to set bail for Sotomayor on Saturday.
State statutes prohibit bail from being set for motor vehicle offenses, said Winnie Comfort, a spokeswoman for New Jersey’s court system. Carole Cummings, the municipal division manager for the municipal court vicinage that includes Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties, agreed, saying “Judges are not permitted to set bail for traffic summonses.”
Bill Elliott, who started the HERO Campaign to encourage the use of designated drivers after his son, John, was killed by a drunken driver in 2000, said he was shocked by Sotomayor’s arrests.
Elliott said he will ask state legislators for changes in New Jersey law to possibly prevent situations like that involving Sotomayor. One possibility is extending the time authorities can impound the vehicle of a person arrested for drunken driving, he said.
“There’s just too much at stake,” Elliott said.
Meanwhile, published reports indicate Assemblyman Nelson Albano, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, is working on legislation requiring significant bail for persons arrested for drunken driving twice during a 30-day period. That would allow those persons to be detained until their cases were heard in court, the reports read.
Albano’s 19-year-old son was killed in an accident involving a drunken driver in 2001. Albano couldn’t be reached for comment.
Sotomayor wasn’t available for comment Wednesday.
Some of his neighbors said Wednesday that they know little about him, including what he does for a living.
Don Giacomoni, who owns Johnson’s Body Shop near Sotomayor’s home, said he spoke with Sotomayor several weeks ago, but couldn’t be more specific about the time.
According to Giacomoni, Sotomayor said he was depressed because his wife had left him. Sotomayor also said his right leg had been amputated a few months earlier, Giacomoni said.
Authorities said in a police report that they didn’t give Sotomayor the full field sobriety tests during his arrest April 9 because of his amputated leg.
Giacomoni said Sotomayor also seemed to be having problems with flat tires for a while, with Sotomayor saying he was driving over nails in his driveway.
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