The Grand County Jail had been holding Elvis J. Quintanilla-Vasquez on three second-degree felony charges of aggravated human smuggling and three third-degree felony charges of human smuggling ahead of a scheduled June 17 court date.
The charges against him stem from a May 16 single-vehicle traffic accident on Interstate 70 near Thompson Springs that killed four undocumented immigrants and injured four others, including Quintanilla-Vasquez. Authorities allege that the 36-year-old Lancaster, Calif., resident was transporting the four men, as well as several others, to work for a relative in Illinois.
However, defense attorney Cara M. Tangaro and Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald said this week they were not ready to proceed with the preliminary hearing, because they have not received key investigators’ reports or other materials related to the case.
As a result, the two attorneys filed a joint request asking 7th District Judge Lyle R. Anderson to continue that hearing until Aug. 12, and to reduce Quintanilla-Vasquez’s bail from a $100,000 bond to $6,000 cash. The judge signed off on both requests earlier this week.
Fitzgerald told The Times-Independent that it has been difficult for his office to track down copies of incident reports from various agencies. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Utah Bureau of Investigation and the Utah Highway Patrol are jointly investigating the case.
“Sometimes these cases are complex enough and enough agencies are involved that it takes time,” he said June 17.
According to the attorneys’ joint motion, the multi-agency investigation of the incident is still ongoing, and Tangaro wrote that it would be unconstitutional to keep Quintanilla-Vasquez in custody until that work draws to a close.
“To continue to hold the defendant in the interim is a violation of his due process rights,” she wrote.
There were even more pressing concerns that led to his release, according to Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Brian Evans.
Quintanilla-Vasquez was severely injured in the accident, and he subsequently underwent surgery at a Grand Junction hospital to remove three of his fingers. He is currently suffering from complications as a result of the amputations, according to Evans.
“He had some severe medical conditions, and we felt he would be able to get better treatment outside that facility,” Evans said June 18.
According to court records, the single-vehicle accident occurred at about 4:30 a.m. on May 16.
A 1999 Toyota Sienna van was traveling eastbound on Interstate 70 near mile marker 197 when it suddenly veered off the road and then overturned before it came to a stop. Tire marks at the scene of the accident suggest that the vehicle hit a bump in the roadway and then swerved off to the north.
Multiple witnesses claimed that a woman who was involved in the accident fled the scene on foot; the woman was last seen walking off to the east, but her whereabouts are still unknown.
“She has not been located, so we assume that she is illegally in the country, as well, and that she didn’t want to talk to authorities, so she absconded from the scene,” Evans said.
The Utah Highway Patrol identified the victims as Freddie Sanchez-Garcia, 19; Rueben Alberto Perez-Manriquez, 32; Efrain Morales Carteno, 30; and Guatemalan citizen Rodolfo Garcia, who was believed to have been in his mid-30s.
All four men were carrying false identification, according to a probable cause statement from Utah Department of Public Safety Investigator Brad Bullock.
“It is believed that none of the occupants being transported had any documents verifying that they were in the state legally,” Bullock reported.
One of the injured men told a Colorado Highway Patrol trooper that Quintanilla-Vasquez and the female passenger picked them up in California. The man said Quintanilla-Vasquez was transporting them to work for a family member in Chicago, according to Bullock’s probable cause statement.
Tangaro told the court there is very little evidence to suggest that Quintanilla-Vasquez was involved in human smuggling activities.
She did not dispute allegations that Quintanilla-Vasquez was driving the van at the time of the incident. But she said she believes that her client may be one of the victims in this case.
“This is obviously a tragic case,” she said during Quintanilla-Vasquez’s initial June 3 appearance in court. “The issue in this case, however, is a lack of evidence against Mr. Quintanilla.
In addition to the main charges against him, Quintanilla-Vasquez stands accused of a class C misdemeanor count of improper lane travel.