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Driver Sought in Fatal March 26 Crash

September 24, 1997|GEOFF BOUCHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH — An arrest warrant has been issued for a Mexican national who was behind the wheel of a big rig involved in a freeway accident that killed four people, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Judge Margaret Anderson issued the warrant for Leopoldo Nunez Sanchez, 35, of La Paz, Mexico, after he failed to appear in Municipal Court in Newport Beach on Monday to face a felony charge of fleeing the scene of an accident and four counts of vehicular manslaughter, the prosecutor said.

Sanchez was driving in excess of 55 mph March 26 when his truck, loaded with tomatoes, plowed into a crowd of cars that had slowed for traffic, authorities said.

The chain-reaction crash on the northbound lanes of the Santa Ana Freeway near the El Toro Y involved 10 vehicles and killed two couples traveling into Orange County after a trip to Mexico.

Benjamin and Carmen Rea of Los Angeles and their visiting friends, Jaime and Myriam Esperanza Rodriguez, could not be reached by rescuers when their van burst into flames.

Sanchez was arrested at the scene of the Irvine crash but was released when investigators initially decided there was insufficient evidence of wrongdoing, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Victor Quiros. A follow-up investigation, however, lead to charges being filed, he said.

Investigators with the California Highway Patrol intend to search for Sanchez, and extradition proceedings may be sought if he has returned to Mexico, Quiros said.

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