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Passengers tell how trip turned fatal-SUV rollover, 8 dead


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  • t150vsuptpr
    "Normally, when this happens, the hospital has to eat the cost,"
    Read it as

    "Normally, when this happens, the hospital's paying patients and / or their insurance companies have to eat the cost,"
    Or they go belly up and we loose another one.


    Leave a comment:

  • Passengers tell how trip turned fatal-SUV rollover, 8 dead


    The driver was fondling a woman when he lost control, they allege

    MONTICELLO, Utah - Andres Rodriguez remembers being scared as he crossed into the United States, hiking for four days across the desert that forms the U.S.-Mexico frontier.
    He was scared again early Monday when the Chevrolet Suburban carrying him and others suspected of being in the country illegally rolled in southeastern Utah, killing eight of them.
    Rodriguez said Tuesday he knew the trip to find work in the United States could be dangerous, but he did not think it would end in a fatal automobile accident.
    "There are a lot of people who have accidents," said Rodriguez, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter. "But there are a lot of people that make it OK."
    Monday's accident claimed the lives of eight immigrants, some from Guatemala and some from Mexico. Six were men, two were women, and all were in their 20s.

    The driver of the Suburban, 30-year-old Rigoberto Salas-Lopez, is in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), charged Tuesday with transporting illegal aliens resulting in death.

    Crash survivors have told investigators that Salas-Lopez was fondling a woman when he lost control of the vehicle, which was going 75 mph in a 65 mph zone, said Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Rick Eldredge.
    Salas-Lopez, 30, originally from Guatemala, told investigators he swerved the 2001 Chevrolet Suburban to miss a horse.

    "The passengers say no, he wasn't swerving to miss a horse, that he was fondling a female passenger," Eldredge said.
    According to a complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, Salas-Lopez has admitted he was the driver and was carrying immigrants illegally. He also admitted he lied to police at the scene of the crash when he gave them a false name. Agents found a Mexican photo ID card that identified him as Cristobal Morales-Espinoza.

    On Tuesday, Rodriguez, 29, remained at San Juan Hospital in Monticello, where he is being treated for injuries suffered in the crash. In the bed beside him was his traveling companion, Ortez Noe Gonzalez, 26.

    The men are friends from Siltepec, Chiapas, a Mexican state where 55 percent of the population suffers malnutrition, according to the Community Action Center for Political and Economic Research in Chiapas.

    If Rodriguez and Gonzalez work on the corn and bean farms in Chiapas, they will earn less than $5 per day. They said they wanted to find jobs in the United States so they could send money back to their families. Gonzalez has a mother and Rodriguez has a wife and three children in Chiapas.

    Rodriguez has made the trip to the United States once before, about six months ago, when he crossed the Altar Desert, northeast of the Gulf of California, and eventually made his way to Alabama to work in a restaurant near his nephews, cousins and brother-in-law. He returned to Siltepec to see his wife, Rodriguez said, and was returning to Alabama.

    Gonzalez said he was supposed to travel to Ohio to work at a candy manufacturing plant.
    Rodriguez and Gonzalez said they departed Siltepec on March 28 with 13 other people from the town. After arriving in northern Mexico, they carried water, canned food and flour tortillas to survive the four-day walk through the desert.

    On the first night, Rodriguez and Gonzalez said, they met a man in the desert who eventually guided them to a waiting car, whose driver took them to a home in Phoenix.

    From there, most of their party split up, the men said. All that remained of the Siltepec trekkers were Gonzalez, Rodriguez, a 21-year-old woman named Carmela Vasquez, and her brother, 18-year-old Hermilo Vasquez.
    The four from Siltepec remained in the house with about 15 or 20 other people. Each person agreed on a price to be paid by their families to a smuggler once they reached their destinations.

    Gonzalez' family was to pay $800. Rodriguez agreed to $1,800.

    On Sunday, the Siltepec foursome joined 10 other people and climbed into a gray 2001 Chevrolet Suburban registered to a man from Mesa, Ariz.
    Salas-Lopez was at the wheel, though Rodriguez said he was not the leader of the smuggling operation.

    Salas-Lopez said a man from Phoenix he identified as Neftali Espinoza gave him the Suburban and $1,000 to drive the men and women - 11 from Guatemala and three from Mexico - from Phoenix to St. Louis. He said he was also given $500 for gas.

    The Suburban left Phoenix about 7:30 p.m., Rodriguez and Gonzalez said.
    It stopped once for gas, though the men said they do not know where.
    Gonzalez sat in the Suburban's cargo area with other passengers. He remembered the trip being cramped. Rodriguez said he was sitting on the bench seat behind the front seat, where Carmela Vasquez was sitting.
    About 3:30 a.m., Gonzalez said, he could see Salas-Lopez feeling Carmela Vasquez's legs.

    "The driver was molesting Carmela," Gonzalez said.

    Carmela Vasquez became angry at Salas-Lopez, said Gonzalez, who was trying to lie down and did not see the entire altercation.

    About 11 miles north of the Arizona state line in San Juan County, Salas-Lopez lost control of the Suburban. It swerved to the right and left and then rolled, the UHP said.

    Rodriguez said he was asleep during the swerving but remembers feeling the Suburban roll twice. Gonzalez said it was three times.

    Seven people were ejected, according to the UHP. Six of them died at the scene. The seventh died later, as did one of the passengers who was not ejected.

    Rodriguez said he does not know how he exited the vehicle. Gonzalez said he crawled through a broken window.

    The men said a car behind them stopped. One person exited, moved some bodies to the side of the road and drove away. The men said they do not know if the car went for help.

    Rodriguez said Salas-Lopez and Carmela Vasquez were arguing after the crash.

    "The driver told [Carmela] it was her fault they had the accident," Rodriguez said.

    Rodriguez said he tried to help Carmela Vasquez, who was covered in blood and whose door would not open. Meanwhile, he was worrying the Suburban would ignite.

    Rodriguez and Gonzalez said the scene was quiet. No one was crying or screaming.

    An ambulance and firefighters arrived about 20 minutes after the crash.
    On Tuesday, Carmela Vasquez was in fair condition at St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction, Colo., according to the Grand Junction-based The Daily Sentinel.

    Her brother, Hermilo Vasquez, died at St. Mary's, authorities said.
    Gonzalez and Rodriguez on Tuesday had scratches and lacerations visible on their heads, arms and torsos. Rodriguez's right ear was torn. A doctor in Monticello stitched it back together.

    Both men told The Tribune they did not suffer any broken bones. But the physician treating them, Paul Reay, said later Tuesday that Gonzalez suffered a minor skull fracture and Rodriguez a broken right hand.

    An insurance policy on the Suburban is expected to help pay the medical bills, Reay said. "Normally, when this happens, the hospital has to eat the cost," he said.

    Rodriguez and Gonzalez said they do not know what will happen to them now. Reay told them Tuesday that ICE agents have said they can remain in the country if they testify against the driver. Both men said they would.

    "Put him in jail," Rodriguez said.

    The men also said they do not plan to enter the United States illegally again, and plan to discourage people in Siltepec from making the journey.
    "They're risking their lives," Rodriguez said. "It's very dangerous to walk this way."
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