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Germantown Man Won’t Face Criminal Charges Connected to I-270 Crash That Killed Two Law Enforcement

A Germantown man involved in the horrific December 2017 I-270 crash which resulted in the deaths of two law enforcement agents will not face criminal charges.

Roberto Garza Palacios, 28, of Germantown, will not face more than the $280 in traffic violation fines, as Montgomery County prosecutors have found that there was not enough evidence to charge him with more serious offenses connected to the crash which killed an FBI agent and a deputy state fire marshal.

The crash on southbound I-270 occurred about 10:00 pm on December 8, 2017, just north of Falls Road. Garza Palacios was travelling southbound on I-270 when he swerved to the left shoulder to avoid vehicles stopped in the left lane, and struck FBI agent Carlos Wolff and Deputy State Fire Marshal Sander Cohen. Cohen, 33, was pronounced dead at the scene, while Special Agent Wolff, 36, succumbed to his injuries at Suburban Hospital.

In May, it was announced that Garza Palacios was charged with negligent driving, a violation of Transportation Article 21-901.1(b), said the Maryland State Police in a press release. When contributing to an accident, this charge carries a penalty of a $280 fine and three points. The fine was paid on June 25, according to court records. It will be the only punishment associated with the crash.

However, Garza Palacios, a Guatemalan native, could still face deportation. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson Justine Whelan confirmed that on Thursday, May 3, ICE officers arrested 28-year-old Garza Palacios at his residence in Maryland. Whelan identified Garza Palacios as an “unlawfully present Guatemalan national” and said he was taken into custody and charged with violating the terms and conditions of his work visa after overstaying the authorized period of stay in 2009.

The Maryland State Police initially said that Garza Palacios was a Germantown resident, however, the Washington Post who first reported his arrest by ICE stated that Garza Palacios was arrested in home on Belle Grove Road in Gaithersburg.

Garza Palacios has moved around since during his time in Montgomery County. According court records, he was charged with two traffic violations in May of 2015. At that time he was living in Montgomery Village. He was ticketed for the same violation for which he was charged after the December crash which killed Cohen and Wolff. He was also charged with failure to obey traffic control device instructions. He pleaded guilty to both those charges, and subsequently had his driver’s license suspended for failure to pay the traffic tickets. His driving privilege was suspended from June 22, 2015 until November 20, 2015.

According to Whelan, ICE officers had previously encountered Garza Palacios in August 2015 and lodged a detainer with Montgomery County Detention Center following Garza’s arrest on local charges. “Garza Palacios was subsequently released from custody without notification to ICE,” said Whelan in an email to Germantown Pulse.

Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Sander Cohen had been a member of the Office of the State Fire Marshal for nine years. In January of this year, State Fire Marshal Brian Geraci appointed him Regional Commander of the Northern Regional Office. He was responsible for supervising fire investigations in Carroll, Harford, and Cecil counties.

Cohen was a decorated fire marshal who had repeatedly been acknowledged for his outstanding service to the people of Maryland. In addition to his service as a deputy state fire marshal, he was also an active member of the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department, Station 3. Bethesda Beat is reporting that Cohen was a graduate of Winston Churchill High School and lifelong resident of Rockville.

Photos courtesy MCFRS.

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