‘Hit-and-run victim not entitled to restitution as he is dead’

Defense counsel argues that judge did not misapprehend issues

A man who died as a result of the injuries he sustained in a hit-and-run case is not entitled to restitution for his hospital bills because he is dead and cannot pay any bills himself, according to the Office of the Public Defender.

Assistant public defender Jean Pierre Nogues, counsel for Esekiel “Easy” Smith, argued that no evidence was ever presented in filings or hearings to support any contention that the decedent, Melton Agulto, left an estate or had an executor for that estate.

Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho did not misapprehend the issues before him, said Nogues in Smith’s opposition to the Office of the Attorney General’s motion for reconsideration of the judge’s ruling.

Nogues said Camacho reviewed all disputed matters of restitution amounts and made determination as to all of them.

Last March 30, Camacho ruled that the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services and Commonwealth Health Care Corp. are not entitled to restitution over Agulto’s death because they are only third-party indirect victims.

The judge denied the CNMI government’s request to hold Smith liable to pay $1,866 in restitution for the medical services provided by DFEMS and CHCC to Agulto.

Camacho, however, found that Smith is liable for $4,972 in restitution payment to Agulto’s mother, Gloria Cabrera. The Office of the Attorney General requested a total of $8,613 in restitution. Smith conceded that he owed $4,972. The government, through the OAG, then filed a motion for Camacho to reconsider his ruling.

In the government’s motion for reconsideration, assistant attorney general J. Robert Glass Jr. asserted that Camacho should amend his judgment to include the $1,866 in bills from CHCC and DFEMS to be paid to the victim, Agulto. Glass said there is no question that Agulto is the direct victim in this case and to deny his estate recovery for these bills would be clear error and a manifest injustice.

In Smith’s opposition, Nogues said evidence was adduced to confirm that Agulto was, at the time of his death, an adult and not a dependent of any other person. Thus, Nogues pointed out, Agulto’s mother, Cabrera, was not responsible for his hospital bills, any more than Agulto’s uncle, next-door neighbor, or pastor was. Neither did Agulto’s mother pay those bills, the defense counsel said.

Nogues said Camacho properly rejected the contention that Agulto’s mother should be compensated by Smith for the CHCC and DFEMS bills accrued by Agulto’s medical care.

Nogues said that, in its motion for reconsideration, the OAG takes an entirely different tack and argues that they were always asking for Agulto to receive the restitution. “But he cannot. He is dead, has no estate, and never paid the bills himself (or even received them, for that matter),” the defense counsel pointed out.

To order Smith to pay restitution to Agulto for his hospital bills would be to, de facto, order the restitution to be paid either to Cabrera or directly to CHCC and DFEMS, Nogues said. Camacho, however, already pointed out in his order that a defendant was not liable to pay restitution to the victim’s employer for medical expenses paid by the employer because the employer was an indirect third-party victim. Thus, he said, Camacho properly found that Smith does not owe restitution to CHCC or DFEMS.

The defense counsel said Camacho properly found that Smith does not owe restitution for the unpaid medical bills to Agulto’s mother, Cabrera. Nogues said the government did not argue in its previous motions or in the hearing that Agulto was the victim seeking restitution. He said the government expressly argued that CHCC, DFEMS, and Cabrera were the victims seeking restitution.

“To now suggest otherwise because the actual original argument lost the day is insincere,” Nogues added.

According to court records, on the evening of Aug. 18, 2018, Agulto, who had been taken to the hospital for injuries over a fight, fled from the hospital on foot. Police failed to locate him. After midnight on Aug. 19, 2018, Smith, who was driving a vehicle north in Puerto Rico, hit Agulto as the latter was walking in the middle of the street. Smith fled the scene after the accident. Agulto died as a result of his injuries. Later that day, Smith voluntarily surrendered to the police.

On Jan. 30, 2019, Smith pleaded guilty to the charges of leaving an accident scene and reckless driving. Smith was sentenced to five years and six months in prison, with the last six months suspended. He was ordered to pay restitution to Agulto’s family and made eligible for work release while serving his sentence to pay the restitution.

The parties agreed that, at a minimum, Smith owed $1,000 in restitution. Smith immediately paid the amount from the bail money that he had posted.

The parties disagreed as to how much was owed in restitution and to whom.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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