Driver pleads in five deaths on I-8

November 30, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

A suspected immigrant smuggler driving a car that crashed on Interstate 8 a year ago killing five people — all undocumented immigrants — has pleaded guilty to five counts of gross vehicular manslaughter.

Alfonso Imperial Damas, 21, of Tijuana will be sentenced Dec. 14 in Imperial County jail court.

Deputy District Attorney Wayne Robinson, the prosecutor assigned to the case, said he will seek a four-year prison sentence.

Imperial had been charged with second-degree murder by the county District Attorney's Office.

However, Superior Court Judge Juan Ulloa ruled earlier this month there was insufficient evidence to pursue five counts of second-degree murder against Imperial.

Joe Beard, assistant district attorney, said when the judge made that ruling, Imperial opted to plead guilty to the five counts of vehicular manslaughter.


The DA's Office argued that Imperial was the driver of a 1990 Honda Civic involved in an accident while heading east on I-8 just east of Mountain Springs Road on the grade leading into the Valley.

The accident occurred, according to the DA's Office, two days after Imperial attempted to smuggle a group of undocumented immigrants across the border. In that attempt, the group was caught by the U.S. Border Patrol and processed back to Mexico.

At the time the crash occurred, the DA's Office argued, Imperial was again trying to bring the same group of immigrants across the border.

Imperial reportedly lost control of the vehicle as he drove eight people down the I-8 grade. The car flipped several times, ejecting some of the passengers and killing five.

The prosecution had contended Imperial rigged the car with wooden blocks and spacers, affecting the suspension and making the vehicle difficult to control.

Robinson said because Imperial does not have any prior felony convictions, it is not possible to seek a stiffer sentence.

Robinson said his goal is to have Imperial serve a prison sentence and then be extradited to Mexico.

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

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