BANGOR, Maine — The Mexican man who last Halloween led Belfast police on a high-speed chase that ended when his car caught fire was sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court to 15 months in federal prison.
Cesar Benitez-Salazar, also known as Isander Birriel-Lopez, 26, pleaded guilty earlier this year to entering the United States after having been deported and fraudulently using the Social Security number of another individual.
He faced up to two years in federal prison on the re-entry count and up to five years on the Social Security fraud count. Each charge carried a maximum fine of $250,000.
Benitez-Salazar, who was using the name Birriel-Lopez and living in Swanville, came to the attention of federal officials after he was arrested shortly after 1 a.m. Oct. 31 by Belfast police with a blood alcohol level of 0.19 percent, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent.
A clerk at the Big Apple convenience store called Belfast police after Benitez-Salazar tried to buy alcohol and was refused by the clerk. Officer Michael Rolerson caught sight of the man’s 1999 Chevy Blazer when he was traveling on the U.S. Route 1 overpass at what appeared to be faster than the speed limit, according to a previously published report.
Rolerson began chasing the vehicle and then saw smoke suddenly enveloping the Blazer at the Route 1 and Congress Street intersection, according to police.
“I really thought he crashed,” Rolerson said the day after the arrest.
But Benitez-Salazar kept going despite the smoke and the police car’s lights and sirens. Rolerson next saw him on the wrong side of the road by Dos Amigos restaurant in Northport, traveling at 90 mph, according to the officer.
The Blazer finally pulled into a driveway at Maine Energy, and as Rolerson got Benitez-Salazar out of the vehicle, flames started to appear under the car.
Two other police officers arrived on the scene and were able to use two fire extinguishers to put the fire out. The Northport Fire Department also was called, Rolerson said.
Benitez-Salazar was arrested and charged with eight counts: criminal speeding, operating without a license, operating an unregistered motor vehicle, failure to sign a uniform summons and complaint, driving to endanger, failure to stop, operating under the influence of intoxicants and eluding an officer.
He was convicted March 3 of those state offenses, according to documents filed in federal court, and sentenced to 90 days in jail, which he served while awaiting the resolution of his case, and fined $1,690.
A week later, he was charged in federal court in Bangor. Benitez-Salazar pleaded guilty to those charges on March 28.
Benitez-Salazar, who has a criminal record in Ohio, was deported from the U.S. in June 2009 and May 2010. He told agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that he returned illegally to the U.S. on foot in September 2010.
How and why he was living in Maine was not included in federal court documents.
Benitez-Salazar is expected to be deported again after completing his sentence.
BDN writer Abigail Curtis contributed to this report.