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Driver in deadly I-70 crash charged with human smuggling

Published: Friday, May 23 2014 1:45 p.m. MDT

Utah Highway Patrol investigate a deadly accident along Interstate 70 in Grand County early Friday morning, May 16, 2014. At least four people were killed in the accident, another four transported to a local hospital.

Utah Highway Patrol

MOAB — Prosecutors have filed human smuggling charges against a California man in connection with a crash on I-70 that killed four people and injured four others.

Elvis J. Quintanilla-Vasquez of Lancaster, California, was among the injured. He was released from St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, on Thursday and booked into the Mesa County Jail on a Utah arrest warrant.

Quintanilla-Vasquez, 36, is charged in 7th District Court with four counts of aggravated human smuggling, a second-degree felony, three counts of human smuggling, a third-degree felony, and one count of improper lane travel, a class C misdemeanor.

Investigators in Utah believe Quintanilla-Vasquez was driving a Toyota minivan on May 16 when it hit a bump in the road about 4:30 a.m., veered off I-70 and overturned.

Four men inside the van were ejected and died at the scene, according to the Utah Highway Patrol. Troopers identified three of the victims Friday as Ruben Alberto Perez-Manriquez, 32; Efrain Morales Carteno, 30; and Freddie Sanchez, 19. The name of the fourth man was not released because troopers have not yet been able to notify family members of his death, UHP Sgt. Todd Royce said.

Quintanilla-Vasquez and three other men in the van were taken to the hospital in Colorado for treatment. Troopers are still looking for a woman who was in the van when it crashed and left the area before they arrived, Royce said.

"We have confirmed that she was there," the sergeant said, adding that the woman hasn't been ruled out as a suspect in the case, but is primarily being sought as a witness.

Investigators interviewed the three surviving passengers at the hospital and learned that Quintanilla-Vasquez and the woman had picked the men up in California, according to charging documents.

"(They) were being transported to Chicago to work for a family member of (Quintanilla-Vasquez)," the charges state. "The location of the job, the name of the company or who they were going to work for, or even the type of industry was unknown."

Consular cards, permanent resident cards and Social Security cards found on the four men who died were all counterfeit, investigators said.

"It is believed that none of the occupants being transported had any documents verifying that they were in the state legally," the charges state.

In a court filing seeking a reduction in Quintanilla-Vasquez's $150,000 bail, defense attorney Cara Tangaro argued that the charges against her client have been "hastily filed."

"There is very little evidence that Mr. Quintanilla-Vasquez was involved in human smuggling," Tangaro wrote, adding that her client has a wife and four children in California, is "heavily involved in his church and community" there and suffered the loss of three fingers as a result of the crash.

"If necessary, Mr. Quintanilla-Vasquez would agree to (wear) an ankle monitor so that he can return home and begin to heal," Tangaro wrote.

Quintanilla-Vasquez remains in the Mesa County Jail where he is awaiting extradition to Utah.

Email: gliesik@deseretnews.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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