East Ellijay suspect on ‘most wanted’ list
Billy Inman knows it’s a long shot to find justice for his son, Dustin, who was killed on Father’s Day weekend in 2000 in East Ellijay. Around 11 p.m. on that Friday night, a Mexican man in the country illegally slammed into the rear of the Inmans’ stopped car at a traffic light.
Gonzalo Harrell-Gonzalez, 51, had reportedly fallen asleep at the wheel when he hit the Inmans going 60 mph. Or at least that’s what he told bystanders through an interpreter. Dustin and the family dog, who were in the back seat, were killed instantly. Harrell-Gonzalez tried to blend into the crowd at the scene, but was pointed out by witnesses, according to an incident report.
He complained of stomach pain and was taken to the hospital in Dalton by a law enforcement officer. Harrell-Gonzalez then slipped away and hasn’t been seen since. It is believed he is back in Mexico, where American authorities are technically prevented from extraditing him.
Dustin was 16. His mother, Cathy, sustained a traumatic brain injury and has been wheelchair-bound since the wreck. Harrell-Gonzalez, 32 at the time, was charged by a Gilmer County grand jury with homicide by vehicle in the first degree, serious injury by vehicle and reckless driving.
During the recent National Crime Victims Rights Week, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency announced Harrell-Gonzalez was listed on the “VOICE Most Wanted” fugitives list, highlighting fugitives connected to victims and families of victims who have sought help or information from ICE through their Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office.
“The fugitive list was launched this week during (Victims’ Rights Week) to help raise awareness of the work the VOICE office does every day to support victims of crimes committed by individuals with a nexus to immigration,” according to a release.
Inman said Monday the representatives of VOICE informed him the most wanted list was going to be published.
“They think Gonzalo is coming back and forth now (across the border), but they don’t know where he’s at — he was in Monterrey at one time,” he said.
Does VOICE give hope?
Does the VOICE most wanted list give he and Cathy any hope?
“Yes, it gave me a lot of hope, and I needed some,” Billy said. “June is going to be 19 years, and there’s some people still trying (to find Harrell-Gonzalez). The people at VOICE have truly done everything they could do. I can call them any time.”
Inman said he “thanks God” for his wife, Kathy, every day for keeping him going.
“If not for her, I’d probably be in trouble or dead either one,” he said. “All these years people are telling me to keep doing what I’m doing, and I don’t think it’s made a hill of beans of a difference. I feel like a failure, I truly do.”
Inman said a current “red notice” on Harrell-Gonzalez — meaning he can be picked up on a provisional arrest warrant if he is caught attempting to cross a border — is current until October.
“There’s just so much I don’t understand about all this,” he confessed. “It breaks my heart. I ain’t a racist and I don’t hate people, and I think a lot of the problem lies in Washington (D.C.). They just don’t give a flip.”
In a June 2016 story in the Times-Courier, Inman shared a Dec. 21, 2015, letter with the newspaper from trial attorney K. Adrienne Shiflett of the criminal division Office of International Affairs, U.S. Department of Justice.
“Based upon the facts revealed in the investigation, this is not the type of case for which we would send an extradition request to Mexico,” Shiflett wrote. “In order to obtain extradition of a fugitive from Mexico, any treaty between the U.S. and Mexico requires that we show that the crime charged in the U.S. would also be a crime under Mexican law (dual criminality), and that the statute of limitations in U.S. and Mexico has not lapsed.”
There would be no criminality, and it would be “likely” the Mexican statue of limitations would bar the case since eight years had elapsed since the accident, the letter continued.
“If the family of the victim appears poised to engage in self-help, please discourage that,” Shiflett said. “They could get themselves into difficulties, and it would not resolve the obstacles to extradition.”
‘It eats at me’
District Attorney Alison Sosebee recalled in 2016 the extradition request was sent and “fairly quickly we received it back.”
“It candidly surprised me because we had been in contact with some other people in the federal government, and it was my impression that Billy had been led to believe, too, that they were trying to help,” she said of agencies other than the Department of Justice. “And then when we got the response, that was my concern all along. Because when you actually read the extradition treaty language — and I’m not being facetious when I say it was signed when Jimmy Carter was president — it was the case not following the extradition requirement.
“But then we had kind of been led to believe there would be some help in his case. But when we got the request back, it was just a blanket (statement), ‘No, we’re not going to help — he doesn’t fall within the treaty requirements.’”
Sosebee said there’s “not a good solution.”
“I understand what (Billly Inman’s) concerns are and what his frustration is, (but) I don’t know what to do for him,” she said. “There is just something unnatural about losing a child, it just turns the circle of life and the way you anticipate things to turn out. I wish I had a good answer for him, but I don’t. Without the federal government being willing to do an extradition, we’re dead in the water.”
Though encouraged by the list, Billy Inman’s heart is still heavy.
“It eats at me knowing that this man is still walking around hugging his kids, and I have to go to the cemetery to see mine — or talk to him in my heart,” he told one Atlanta news outlet last week.
Barbara Gonzalez, acting assistant director of the VOICE office, replied to an email from the newspaper.
“The VOICE Most Wanted list is an effort to generate tips and leads of fugitives sought by (ICE), many who are also wanted for criminal prosecution for their alleged actions where people were killed,” she said. “We certainly hope ... someone will see the fugitives on this list and call us with information so that they can face justice.”
A conversation with the Inmans
A conversation with Billy and Kathy Inman about the death of their son, Dustin, in a 2000 wreck involving illegal immigrant Gonzalo Harrell-Gonzales reveals some of the issues they’ve dealt with for almost 19 years.
While family tragedies, especially the death of children, have torn some couples apart, it doesn’t hold true with the Inmans. They just celebrated their 36th wedding anniversary in late March.
“There’s not too many people can say that, can they?” Kathy said. She was asked about her health, and if she is holding up.
“Not really,” she replied of a traumatic brain injury and being wheelchair-bound. “It’s been worse at times.”
“A lot since before the wreck,” said Billy. “They say it may get worse as she gets older and the brain shrinks. Nobody can do nothing with the scar tissue, with the vision in her left eye.”
Kathy mentioned the help they have received from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, including Barbara Gonzalez, the southern regional communications director.
“I love her to death,” Kathy said. “She calls me her little sister.”
Has it given the couple hope since Harrell-Gonzalez has been placed on the new ‘most wanted’ list of the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) group, under Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“Yes, they’re really trying,” she said of VOICE. “The list is getting it more recognized.”
Kathy Inman was asked if she was concerned about her husband’s involvement in the case.
“I’m very worried about him,” she confided. “He stays up late working on stuff about immigration, and taking care of me. He’s doing too much.”
Billy Inman said hope is “what keeps us going.”
“Thank you for all the prayers and thinking about us,” Kathy said to newspaper readers. “There’s a lot of them that still thinks about us, reads our stories. As a matter a fact, people come up to us after they see the signs on Billy’s truck, and still keep up with us.”
“If they had Gonzalo right now, it wouldn’t change what’s going on in our lives, getting things back to like they were,” Billy said. “I truly hope something can be done so it doesn’t happen to you or anybody else.
“All these ‘angel parents’ (of children killed by illegal immigrants), I’ve met and know them personally,” Billy said. “I feel like a failure because I haven’t been able to stop it from happening. I’ve tried my dangdest to have something done. I suppose I’m not politically correct, but (President) Trump’s handshake meant more to me than any politician’s. He seemed more sincere.”
“Billy’s gotten a lot of recognition for this,” Kathy said. “He’s kept our story alive for 19 years.”
Billy credited D.A. King, who formed the Dustin Inman Society after the fatal wreck), and “all the ICE officers — Doretha McCallum, John Feere, Frank Wuco and others.”
“I feel like I’ve got a decent relationship with the reporters,” he said. “I feel like if I had something worthy to tell, they would do something. But it’s not just about us, though. I want something to be done. I just feel like we’ve been battling the wrong people all these years ... it’s our politicians that’s not got the will to do it.”
Billy said on one visit to Washington, the “angel families” got to go on stage and tell their stories to assembled border agents, sheriffs and deputies who were there. Kathy experienced a medical “spell” before the event, and the Inmans only got to appear before it wound down, and were unable to tell their story. Still, they said, President Trump came over and spoke with them after his address.
“Everybody I’ve met at VOICE has their heart in the right place,” he said. “My hat is off to every law enforcement officer we’ve got, because there’s so many of them that want something done, but their hands are tied.
“All you can do is just give it to God, but I tell you, these (immigration officers’) hearts are in the right place. They ain’t out for medals, and they truly want to help us.”