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Awaiting Answers

The family of Joseph Passarelli, slain by an illegal immigrant in November, waits for news of extradition efforts.

It’s been a week under seven months, but the morning of Nov. 20, 2006 and the days that followed still feels as if it were yesterday for the Passarelli family.

On that day in the early dawn, Joseph Passarelli, a Herndon computer systems architect and father of three, was struck by a car that ended up pulling him nearly 200 feet. The driver fled the scene. Joseph Passarelli, 53, later died of his injuries in the hospital.

The accused driver of that car was Jose Santos Sibrian Espinoza, an illegal immigrant living in the Herndon area, long since having ignored a federal order for his deportation dating back to 2001. Just days after a warrant was issued for his arrest by the Herndon Police Department in connection with his death, Espinoza was picked up by ICE agents as a result of his fugitive immigration status.

He was never tried for the crime and was deported back to his native El Salvador. Police have yet to get any further leads on his current whereabouts.

"It’s just back to the point where we just wait," said Joseph Passarelli’s 25-year-old son, Mike Passarelli, "it’s still one of those things where you just can’t believe it, even after all this time."

THERE’S BEEN no shortage of attempts made by Joseph Passarelli’s sons to bring the man accused of killing their father to face the American court system.

They have met several times with U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10), who represents Herndon, in lobbying efforts to strike a deal on an extradition treaty with El Salvador. Wolf has since worked to arrange meetings with the El Salvadoran ambassador to the United States as well as U.S. officials working in the Central American country.

Currently there is no exception for El Salvadoran nationals to be removed back to the United States to stand trial for crimes committed here in the current extradition treaty between the two countries.

An effort to update that treaty, which dates back to 1911, is currently being undertaken by U.S. delegates working in El Salvador, according to state department officials at the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador.

"They were very nice, very apologetic with what had happened," said Mike Passarelli of his meeting with the El Salvadoran delegates. "But what they just told us was basically that if there’s no extradition treaty, nothing can be done."

THE HERNDON POLICE have entered the Espinoza’s current wanted status, fingerprints and photo into national and international crime databases. Other than that, Herndon Police are only able to wait for him to resurface before anything can be done, according to Herndon Police Lt. Jerry Keys, who originally worked on Passarelli’s case.

"We have his information in there, so if he shows back up and he gets picked up for anything, we’ll get him," Keys said.

For Wolf, the best strategy at this point is to keep the case at the forefront of the public’s mind so that a new extradition treaty will gain momentum and Espinoza may be one of those who could be removed back to the U.S. for trial, according to Wolf spokesman Dan Scandling. Wolf officially brought up the case of Joseph Passarelli in a foreign appropriations congressional hearing in early April, Scandling added.

"What you try and do with this case is work it as many ways as you can and keep pushing how important it is on the State Department and El Salvador," Scandling said. "It continues to be a front-running issue here and we’re always believing that the more consciousness there is about an issue, the better off it is."

FOR MIKE PASSARELLI and his two brothers, the whereabouts and ultimate fate of their father’s accused killer continue to be one of their chief concerns in life.

"I think the government has a responsibility to the community to put in place a system where we could either get this guy sent back … or at least recognize them easier when they get arrested here," said Mike Passarelli, who has spent time researching similar cases throughout the nation. "That’s what blows my mind, is that they can’t just go and grab someone when they commit a crime."

Still, Mike Passarelli said that he doesn’t blame his father’s death on Espinoza’s illegal status but is "disappointed" that a more solid system doesn’t exist for keeping tabs on illegal immigrants who commit crimes.

"The fact that he was from El Salvador doesn’t mean anything, it could have just as easily been a white guy or someone else," he said. "But there would have been more of a system in place to stop that person if they had done it."