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Manslaughter case against 2 Mexican nationals dismissed by the DA's office

May 10, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

The District Attorney's Office dismissed its vehicular manslaughter case against two Mexican nationals in connection with a Jan. 30 traffic accident that left two people dead.

Deputy District Attorney Lisa DiMaria said, "The people in this case dismissed due to insufficient evidence."

The dismissal came as a hearing in the County Courthouse in El Centro on Wednesday for Santiago Carranza Martinez and Benito Reyes Ramirez was about to start.

Martinez was accused of driving a van filled with undocumented immigrants. The van collided with a bus and two of the people in the van died. Reyes was accused of being the "coyote," or guide who brought the group across the border.

Initially the DA's office had sought murder charges against both men, but last week Superior Court Judge Christopher Yeager ruled the two would stand trial for vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.

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The two defense attorneys in the case, Chris Yturralde and Bill Lehman, filed motions contending the DA's office had failed to preserve exonerating evidence.

Yturralde said Wednesday there was a witness who told officers at the scene of the accident Martinez was not the driver and Reyes was not the guide.

Yturralde claimed the DA's office did not do enough to preserve testimony from that witness. He said more should have been done to make sure that witness, a Mexican national, was available for interviews.

Lehman said there were several witnesses with information that could exonerate the men. One such witness was in court and ready to testify Tuesday.

However, DiMaria was ill and the case was delayed until Wednesday, when DiMaria dismissed the charges.

She said her action had nothing to do with the defense motions regarding the witnesses.

Lehman said he thinks the two men would be released from local custody and would be handed to immigration authorities for deportation.

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

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