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Archive for Saturday, August 12, 2000

Driver in crash may face charges

August 12, 2000

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— The Kansas Highway Patrol trooper investigating the crash that killed three of 15 people in a crowded minivan says he'll recommend misdemeanor charges against the driver.

Trooper Tod Hileman said that based on interviews with passengers it appears the driver fell asleep at the wheel. The van veered into the median on Interstate 70 about 13 miles east of Russell around 6:40 a.m. Monday, overturning at least twice.

Investigators found two bottles of No Doz an over-the-counter stimulant in the van, Hileman said.

He said driver Fernando Garcia, 56, of Yonkers, N.Y., denied falling asleep. Garcia, who underwent surgery Thursday, said previously that he couldn't remember the accident

Hileman said he would recommend that Russell County Atty. Daniel Krug file three counts of vehicular homicide against Garcia. Krug said he expected to consider the charges after reviewing the investigation report.

Meanwhile, Hileman released the names of two victims who had been unidentified. The third person killed in the crash was Manuel Torres, 20, of Mexico. A man in critical condition at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita was identified as Felimon Estefes, 17, of Mexico.

Three of the 12 who were injured remain in hospitals. Garcia and Antonia Cordatta Hernandez, 21, of Mexico were in good condition at Via Christi Regional Medical Center-St. Francis Campus, also in Wichita.

The other two people who died in the crash were Sonia Enriquez, 30, of Puebla, Mexico, and Bety Castro, 38, of Ecuador.

According to state law, Hileman and Krug said, vehicular homicide is an unintentional act involving an "unreasonable risk of injury" that is a "material deviation" from standard driving practices.

In an interview Wednesday, Garcia said he was returning to Yonkers after visiting his home in Puebla, Mexico. He said that at the time of the accident he had been driving about three hours after taking turns with someone else. He said the van, which is registered to him, had been on the road about 24 hours since leaving Arizona.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service was continuing its investigation. Mike Jaromin, the INS deputy district director for Missouri and Kansas, said Wednesday that the federal investigation had determined the van's occupants were undocumented aliens, most from Mexico. Most of them face deportation.

The INS could seek charges of alien smuggling. But Jaromin would not say who that might be against.

"It may take a while to sort it all out," he said Thursday.

Garcia, who said he has worked in construction, has denied involvement in any smuggling.

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