OAG says judge’s ruling on restitution in fatal hit-and-run case is clear error


A man who died as a result of injuries in a vehicular hit-and-run case is entitled to restitution for the bills he incurred as a result of the crime, according to the Office of the Attorney General.

Assistant attorney general J. Robert Glass Jr. asserted that the Superior Court should amend its judgment to include the $1,866 in bills from the Commonwealth Health Care Corp. and Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services to be paid to the victim, Melton Agulto.

“There is no question that Melton Agulto is the direct victim in this case,” said Glass in the government’s motion filed last Wednesday to reconsider part of the court’s order that the victim is not entitled to restitution for the CHCC and DFEMS bills.

To deny the victim’s estate recovery for these bills would be clear error and a manifest injustice, he added.

Last March 30, Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho ruled that DFEMS and CHCC are not entitled to restitution over Agulto’s death because they are only third-party indirect victims.

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

Camacho, however, found that Smith is liable for $4,972 in restitution payment to the victim’s mother, Gloria Cabrera. The OAG requested a total of $8,613 in restitution. Smith conceded that he owed $4,972 in restitution.

The judge also ruled that voluntary offertory gifts to a priest performing the funeral mass were gifts and were therefore not economic losses for purposes of restitution.

In the government’s motion for reconsideration, Glass said Camacho did not rule on the issue of whether the victim would be awarded restitution for these bills.

Glass noted that Agulto may have already passed away from the injuries he sustained as a result of this crime, but he is still entitled to restitution, which his estate can collect for payment of these bills his estate will owe.

Glass argued that Camacho misapprehended the government’s position, and has not ruled on the issue it did present: whether Agulto can recover for the CHCC and DFEMS bills.

The prosecutor said the government presented at the hearing held last June 5 Roselynn Gibbons, the person in charge of CHCC’s billing. Glass said the government also presented the bills from DFEMS and CHCC to the court and that these bills were received as evidence. The CHCC bills consisted of the facility fees and professional fees. Glass said Gibbons testified that the hospital did bill Agulto and it expects to be paid, and that they would turn the billing over to collections if it goes unpaid.

As the hospital did bill Agulto, this is unquestionably a bill to the direct victim for which payment is expected, Glass said. He said the government made this argument at the hearing, and in both in its initial brief and its reply brief in regards to the court’s order for briefing.

According to court records, Agulto had gotten into physical altercations on the evening of Aug. 18, 2019—first at the San Vicente basketball court and then later at his home. The altercations caused Agulto to sustain injuries and he was taken to the Commonwealth Health Center. In the hospital Agulto acted belligerently to CHC personnel then fled on foot from the hospital. Police failed to locate him.

After midnight on Aug. 19, 2019, Smith, who was driving 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.

In the same morning of the accident, Smith voluntarily surrendered to the police. On Jan. 30, 2019, Smith pleaded guilty to the charges of leaving an accident scene and reckless driving. He was sentenced to five years and six months imprisonment, with the last six months suspended. Smith 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. The defendant 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.

Assistant public defender Jean Pierre Nogues, counsel for Smith, argued that DFEMS and CHCC were not victims in this case and are not entitled to restitution, and that the tort defense of comparative negligence should apply in this matter.

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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