Three suspects held in van crash

The suspected driver faces federal immigration charges, while some survivors have left Columbia.
Thursday, June 23, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:52 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

While most of the survivors of Sunday’s fatal van accident on Interstate 70 have been released from hospitals and have left Columbia, immigration officials have detained three people, including the suspected driver, who faces federal immigration charges.

Meanwhile, the bodies of three people who died in the accident have been identified, said Eddie Adelstein, Boone County’s deputy medical examiner.

On Wednesday, the U.S. District Attorney for the Western District of Missouri charged Gelson Omar Mancilla-Santiago, 22, who authorities believe was the driver of the van, with illegally re-entering the United States. Mancilla-Santiago, of Guatemala, was deported from Chandler, Ariz., on Oct. 25, 2004, according to a complaint filed with the district attorney’s office.

Don Ledford, a spokesman for the office, declined to speculate on whether criminal charges would be filed. “We’re still in the early stages of the case,” Ledford said. “There’s one defendant charged with one offense. Whether the facts of the case change the charges against him, I don’t know.”

Mancilla-Santiago’s attorney, assistant federal defender Troy Stabenow, said his client will likely be formally charged next week.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are detaining two other men involved in the accident because they have been considered at risk for leaving the country. Their names have not been released.

The crash occurred around 7 a.m. Sunday when a 14-passenger van carrying 20 migrant workers from Central America hit a median on I-70 east of Columbia and overturned several times. Five of the passengers were killed. The van’s driver was planning to make stops in South Carolina, Washington, D.C., Georgia and New York, said Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The 2001 Chevrolet passenger van is owned by Jose Landaverde, according to a spokeswoman with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Landaverde, who has not been identified among the passengers involved in the accident, purchased the van from a dealership in North Hills, Calif., in March 2004.

As of Wednesday night, 12 of the 15 survivors of the accident had been released from hospitals.

“A number of them have fled,” Rusnok said. “At least three were released from the hospital, went to a local shelter and immediately left the area. Based on the information we have at hand, we took into custody anyone that had a criminal background or was considered a flight risk.”

Two of the passengers, Jorje Ramirez, 16, and Modesto Mejia-Chacon, 24, boarded a bus for Georgia on Tuesday, said Frank Shulse of Columbia-based Centro Latino. He said his organization, which provides services for Hispanics in Columbia, was contacted by University Hospital to assist the two victims.

Gustavo Lopez, Guatemala’s consul general in Chicago, said his office is trying to identify accident victims and contact relatives in Guatemala. Lopez said he has talked to immigration officials about the status of the survivors.

“I think they’re letting them go because they have been cooperating,” he said. “I think they want to find out who brought them here — the coyote.”

A coyote is a term used for someone who smuggles illegal immigrants.

Joseph Spalitto, a representative of the consul general, will travel from Kansas City to Columbia later this week to meet with accident victims and offer legal and financial assistance. Spalitto said family members of accident victims have contacted the U.S. embassy in Guatemala for help in locating their relatives.

Patricia Maza-Pittsford, El Salvador’s consul general, said Aminta-Xion Andrade-Santo, 19, told her she was traveling to meet family in New York following her release from the hospital Tuesday. She declined an offer by the consulate for financial assistance because an aunt sent her money, Maza-Pittsford said.

“Hopefully, she can earn a living and help her family, because her trip cost a lot of money,” she said. Andrade-Santo’s family in Jocoro, El Salvador, had not been aware of the accident until they were informed by a Salvadoran reporter Wednesday.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Boone County Medical Examiner’s office have also been contacted by people seeking information about the accident victims.

Adelstein confirmed that the bodies of two males and one female killed in the accident have been identified by family members. The names of the deceased, who Adelstein said appear to be between 20 and 40 years old, had not been made public as of Wednesday evening.

Three victims were still being treated in local hospitals Wednesday. Eric Deleon-Echeverria, 22, and Vianeth Murillo-Munguia, 21, were listed in good condition. The condition of one victim, who has yet to be identified, was unavailable.

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