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Frightening epidemic: Nearly a million people are driving illegally in Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) -- There is an epidemic in Central Virginia that impacts all of us.

Hundreds of thousands of people are out on our roads driving illegally.

Last week, Madison Scott was in Henrico County District Court for his eighth charge of driving on a suspended license.

What was the first thing he did after the hearing? Scott got right back behind the wheel.

"Your license is suspended for the 8th time but you're behind the wheel of a car. What's up with that," asked 8News Investigator Kristin Smith when she confronted Scott at his car. "You putting this on the news," asked the Richmond man. Smith replied, "We're doing a story on people who aren't supposed to be driving. You're one of them."

According to a study by the Legal Aid Justice Center, approximately 1 in 6 drivers on Virginia's roads have had their licenses suspended because they didn't pay court fines. Thousands more are driving with no license at all.

"It's just devastating," says Arden Bourgeois. He says his stepmother was killed in August by someone who shouldn't have been driving.

Bourgeois explains, "She was cutting some shrubs and then all of a sudden she was underneath a car."

Page Bourgeois was working in the yard at a home on Parham Road when she was hit by an unlicensed driver.

Police say Osmaira Mendez-Urdaneta fell asleep at the wheel and ran off the road.

"Somebody that that was clearly breaking the law who had no right really to be in the vehicle driving and yet they just took the life of someone who was so full of life," adds A. Bourgeois.

The 59-year-old victim who was a wife, mother and grandmother died two weeks later.

"It's staggering how many cases of people who really shouldn't be driving are driving," says Powhatan Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Rob Curello. He is the special prosecutor handling the Burgeois case.

"There has to be some punishment," Cerullo explains, "We have to get the message across that you can't drive without a driver's license."

The former police officer turned prosecutor says people driving on suspended licenses often get caught over and over again.

Sure enough, outside of the Powhatan Courthouse, 8News Investigator Kristin Smith confronted a man who jumped in his car even though he's been busted seven times for driving on a suspended license.

"I have to take the risk of driving every day at work," explained John Clarke IV, "I mean my wife's a stay at home mom and I support my whole family and I just have to drive."

Clarke calls it a catch-22. The Powhatan man can't get his license back until he pays more than $10,000 in court fines. But he can't pay the fines if he can't drive to work.

"If you are driving on a suspended license because of court costs, that doesn't mean you're a bad driver," adds Cerullo, "If you're driving without a driver's license, we have no way to tell if you're a good driver or a bad driver because frankly you've never been tested before by the state."

Investigators aren't sure if Mendez-Urdaneta has ever been licensed to drive.

But according to court records, she's been on the road illegally in the Richmond area since 2003.

Mendez-Urdaneta is now charged with involuntary manslaughter for the death of Page Bourgeois.

So far, police haven't been able to find her.

8News Investigator Kristin Smith tracked down the suspect's apartment where her husband claims she left him two weeks ago. He says he doesn't know where Mendez-Urdaneta is now.

That's a tough pill to swallow for the grieving Bourgeois family. For them, finding closure is now linked to finding the woman who killed their beloved Page.

"It's not that we lost just a loved one, but it's affected everyone in our family," explains A. Bourgeois, "Nothing's going to bring her back, so no I don't think you get justice."

Call Henrico Police if you have any information on the whereabouts of Osmaira Mendez-Urdaneta.

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