Lesser charges filed against men accused in accident deaths

May 01, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

Two Mexican nationals accused of causing the deaths of two undocumented immigrants will face vehicular manslaughter rather than murder charges after a ruling by a county Superior Court judge Monday.

The men, Santiago Carranza Martinez and Benito Reyes Ramirez, have been in custody since the Jan. 30 collision in which the van they were traveling in crashed into a bus filled with farm workers on Highway 86 near Kalin Road.

The van, according to police reports, was carrying a group of undocumented immigrants. Two of the illegal immigrants died in the accident.

The county District Attorney's Office has alleged Martinez was driving the van and Ramirez was the "coyote" who brought the group across the border.


During a preliminary hearing in March, Superior Court Judge Juan Ulloa bound over Martinez on murder charges and Reyes for vehicular manslaughter, according to Bill Lehman, a public defender assigned to represent Ramirez. Private attorney Chris Yturralde of El Centro was assigned to represent Martinez.

Despite the hearing in March, the D.A.'s office was continuing to seek murder charges against both men.

During a pre-trial hearing Monday, a week before the trial was to start, Superior Court Judge Christopher Yeager ruled there was only enough evidence to try the men on vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence charges.

Deputy District Attorney Lisa DiMaria, who is prosecuting both men, said Monday's court action lessens the case.

She said it means if the two are convicted their prison sentence would be significantly shorter.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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