Family’s fury over pardon granted to Opel executive who caused fatal crash

Socialists want inquiry to see if influence peddling played role in Cabinet’s decision

Loreto Dolz wants the person who killed her brother sent back to prison. / MANUEL BRUQUE (EFE)

A pardon handed down by the Cabinet last month to a reckless driver who killed a 25-year-old man has set off a chain of criticism from traffic safety advocates, opposition politicians and the victim's family.

Even Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz questioned the decision, saying: "We need to pay more attention to this type [of petition]." He added: "As a member of government, I have to stand by [these decisions]."

The case involves the suspension of a 13-year sentence handed down to a top executive at the Opel automobile manufacturer. On December 1, 2003, Ramón Jorge Ríos Salgado was driving on AP-7 highway in the wrong direction for five kilometers. The so-called "kamikaze" driver was dodging vehicles that were going the right way but eventually collided with a car driven by José Alfredo Dolz España, 25, near de Polinyà del Xúquer, Valencia province. Dolz was killed instantly.

On December 7, the Cabinet agreed to approve his petition for a pardon. Instead of serving the 13-year sentence, Ríos Salgado will just have to pay a 4,380-euro fine.

The decision has infuriated the Dolz family. "This pardon, this decision by the government, is a slap in the face, a mockery to justice," said Loreto Dolz, the victim's sister.

Ximo Puig, the Socialist secretary general in Valencia, has asked prosecutors to investigate whether influence-peddling played a role in Ríos Salgado's pardon.

Ríos Salgado drove five kilometers in the wrong direction before the fatal collision

There are suggestions that certain connections may have played a role, the opposition says. The son of Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón works at the Uría and Menéndez law firm that defended Ríos Salgado. And his lawyer, Esteban Astarloa Huarte-Mendioca, is the brother of Popular Party Deputy Ignacio Astarloa, who was deputy justice minister from 2000 to 2002.

Esteban Astarloa declined to comment after he was contacted by EL PAÍS on Wednesday, as did Justice Minister Ruiz-Gallardón.

Juan Bravo, the current deputy justice minister in charge of reviewing and recommending pardons, said the decision was made after two reports recommended that Ríos Salgado be released. The convicted Opel executive had served 10 months in prison, Bravo said.

"He has given two irrevocable, sympathetic apologies," the assistant justice chief said.

Bravo said that post-trial reports also suggest that Ríos Salgado may have suffered an epileptic seizure the day of the accident.

As for the influence-peddling charges, sources at the Justice Ministry said that Ruiz-Gallardón's son, José, had no connections to the case and is just one of 538 lawyers that work for the firm. He was in Brazil, where he lives and works, when the petition was made, the sources said,

The victim's sister described Dolz as a positive person. "He helped anyone who asked for it," Loreto Dolz said in a phone interview from her home in Algemesí, Valencia. José Alfredo worked at their family business. "We want the government to revoke this pardon and send this person back to prison," she said.

Ana Novella, the Valencia representative of the Stop Accidents Association, said that her group has already contacted the Dolz family to offer its support. "We are going to send a petition to traffic safety prosecutors, as well as to the justice minister," she said on Wednesday. "You just can't pardon a person who caused an accident in which someone was killed. This is an injustice."

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