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Van rolls on I-70 in Utah; 4 dead, 4 hurt, 1 on run

Published May 16, 2014 9:16 am

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Investigation • Federal immigration officials are assisting with the case, which may involve human smuggling.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A van packed with suspected undocumented immigrants rolled on Interstate 70 in Grand County early Friday morning, killing at least four people and injuring as many more.

The Utah Highway Patrol said federal immigration officials are assisting in the investigation, which may involve human smuggling.

UHP Sgt. Todd Royce said it appeared the full-size passenger van drifted off eastbound I-70 near mile marker 198, about 34 miles west of the Utah-Colorado line, and rolled multiple times about 4:30 a.m., ejecting multiple occupants.

Four men were found dead at the scene. Four more male passengers were taken by air and ground ambulances to St. Mary's Hospital in nearby Grand Junction, Colo., in conditions ranging from critical to serious.

Royce did not immediately know the victims' ages or names.

A ninth van occupant, a female, walked away from the scene and had not been located as of about 2:45 p.m. Friday.

Witnesses not involved in the crash had seen her, said Trooper Jalaine Hawkes. It was not immediately clear whether she is an adult or a juvenile and which direction she was going.

The Department of Homeland Security is trying to confirm the identities of everyone involved and is looking into the incident as possibly involving human smuggling, Hawkes said.

All lanes of I-70 were closed for a time, but were reopened by about 1 p.m.

On Oct. 11, 2005, a van carrying 15 people — including 14 who allegedly had entered the country illegally — rolled near Moab. Two passengers, Guatemalans Juana Ixcuna-Chich and Amalia Perez-Lucas, were killed.

Three years later, Raul Ramirez-Becerra, then 27, pleaded guilty to a charge of transporting undocumented immigrants resulting in death and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.

Ramirez-Becerra, who was also a passenger in the van, walked away from a Moab-area hospital and was a fugitive until his arrest in Phoenix in 2007.

His co-defendant, Noe Luna-Escalona, was driving the van when he fell asleep and drifted off U.S. Highway 191. He overcorrected and rolled the 2000 Dodge Caravan.

Luna-Escalona, 18 at the time, had agreed to a request by Ramirez-Becerra to drive. He was sentenced in 2006 to 24 months in prison.

remims@sltrib.com

Twitter: @remims