Anonymous letters sent to the family of Anna Pump have raised questions about whether the man who struck and killed the late chef as she crossed Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton last month has ever had driving privileges in New York.
Meanwhile, Luis M. Ortega’s attorney and the Suffolk County district attorney’s office have provided conflicting information about whether Mr. Ortega has ever had a valid state driver’s license.
A letter that Ms. Pump’s daughter, Sybille van Kempen, received shortly after her mother’s death made the claim that Mr. Ortega had illegally obtained a driver’s license from a store in Queens. The letter-writer said, “The licenses themselves are official New York State licenses, only the picture and the names on those licenses are not correct because they were purchased using fraud and deception.”
The writer also claimed that Mr. Ortega has used several different names over the years, including the hyphenated last name Ortega-Pillacela, and that his eyesight is compromised.
DA spokesperson Robert Clifford said that there is no record of Mr. Ortega ever having had a valid New York driver’s license. “The [Department of Motor Vehicles] has certified to this office there are no records of license applications, determinations, decisions regarding license applications, results of eye examinations or eye examinations taken, or driving examinations regarding and/or involving the defendant,” he wrote in an email.
Mr. Ortega was arrested on October 5 by Southampton Town Police and charged with circumvention of an interlock device—essentially, a court-ordered Breathalyzer installed on a motor vehicle’s dashboard, requiring a breath test before the vehicle can be driven—unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, and failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk after his pickup truck struck and killed Ms. Pump while she was crossing Montauk Highway in the crosswalk near the Bridgehampton Post Office.
His attorney, Anthony Rutowski of Astarita & Associates P.C., said at the time that Mr. Ortega had been required to have an interlock device because of a DWI charge in 2012, for which he was convicted in 2013, and that his license had been suspended because he had not finished paying the court fees, fines and surcharges associated with that charge.
Additionally, Mr. Rutowski had said that the requirement that Mr. Ortega have an interlock device was put in place on January 2, 2013, for one year—so the requirement actually would have expired in January 2014, if all the fines and costs had been paid.
Colin Astarita, an attorney who is also handling Mr. Ortega’s case, said last week that he has not actually seen or obtained a copy of a license for his client, but he did provide DMV records that indicated that Mr. Ortega had reapplied, and was approved, for a driver’s license in March 2014.
Mr. Clifford, however, suggested that Mr. Ortega may have applied only to have his privilege to obtain a license reinstated, and that it may have been the case that for the past few years it was his privilege, not an actual license itself, that had been suspended.
Mr. Ortega was arrested by Southampton Town Police in March 2012 and charged with DWI as well as refusing a breath screening test. In February 2013, he was arrested by Southampton Village Police and charged with circumvention of an interlock device and, this time, second-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle—charges similar to the ones he faced last month.
Mr. Ortega was arrested under the names Luis M. Ortega-Pillacela and Luis Marcos Ortega-Pillacela, respectively. Mr. Astarita explained that his client’s name has appeared three different ways in police reports because of the way each police officer recorded it at the time of the arrest.
“New York State DMV issues a client ID number to every motorist, including out-of-state drivers, and even those who do not hold a valid license,” Mr. Astarita said. “This is what controls when the court or police are trying to determine a person’s identity. Regardless of how the name is written, or if with a hyphenated name, a police officer only writes down one of the names. All that really matters is the client ID number.”
Mr. Astarita said his client confirmed that he does have an eye problem, but the attorney said that he was waiting for Mr. Ortega’s doctor to confirm exactly what it is. Mr. Astarita said Mr. Ortega does use glasses and was wearing them when his vehicle struck Ms. Pump.
Mr. Astarita has also confirmed that Mr. Ortega is not a legal U.S. citizen, but has applied and not yet been approved for a Social Security card. It remains unclear, however, how Mr. Ortega was able to obtain a valid driver’s license, which his attorneys have said he had, without a Social Security card.
After The Press published a story last week about Ms. van Kempen asking the letter-writer to come forward, she received a second letter in which the writer suggests that he or she is not coming forward for safety reasons.
“My only concern is that this does not happen again,” the person wrote. “Trust no one.”