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Police report sheds light on fatal crash involving immigrant couple and ICE

Police report sheds light on fatal crash involving immigrant couple and ICE
Relatives grieve at funeral services on April 2 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Delano for migrant farmworkers, whose vehicle crashed as they fled immigration agents. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Delano police say immigration agents gave statements that conflicted with surveillance footage in the wake of a crash in which two immigrants in the country illegally died while fleeing.

The death of Santos Hilario Garcia and Marcelina Garcia Profecto sparked protests in the Central Valley community. The couple, who had six children, were not the intended targets for arrest, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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Shortly after the March 13 crash, a deportation officer told police officers that his car followed in the same direction of a vehicle he was attempting to stop, but that he was not in "pursuit with emergency lights/sirens," according to a statement provided in a Delano Police Department traffic collision report.

But surveillance footage obtained by the Police Department showed that one of two cars driven by the deportation officers had its front and rear emergency lights activated and the second had its rear emergency lights activated. A time stamp showed the couple's car at 06:48:42 traveling at a faster rate of speed than other traffic. At 06:48:52, two cars that matched the deportation officers' vehicles followed with the lights activated, according to the report.

The statements provided by the deportation officers, "contradict with the surveillance review conducted," the department stated in its report. The Delano Police Department declined to comment further.

"Per routine protocol, at the time of the incident, the facts surrounding the encounter were referred for review and that review is ongoing," ICE spokesman Richard Rocha said in a statement. "While this was an isolated and extremely unfortunate incident, ICE wants to encourage all individuals we encounter to fully cooperate with our law enforcement officers."

The statement cited "sanctuary" policies that "have pushed ICE out of jails" and "force our officers to conduct more enforcement in the community — which poses increased risks for law enforcement and the public."

"It also increases the likelihood that ICE will encounter other illegal aliens who previously weren't on our radar," Rocha said.

Officials for ICE have said that Garcia matched the description of the person whom agents sought to arrest. Delano police said that after initially stopping, the couple fled in their car and "recklessly" passed westbound traffic by crossing into an eastbound lane. The maneuver caused vehicles traveling east to move to avoid crashing, the police report said.

The driver, Santos Hilario Garcia, passed additional motorists on the north dirt shoulder, before crashing into a utility pole.

Garcia had been convicted in 2014 of driving under the influence and was voluntarily returned to Mexico three times between 2008 and 2017. Profecto had no prior encounters with ICE.

An organization working with the family has given different spellings for Marcelina's last name, but Delano police and ICE have given it as Profecto.

The sequence of events leading to the high-speed wreck began early that morning.

The couple's son told police that at 5 a.m., his father had woken up, eaten breakfast, then headed out with his wife to drop off their daughter at school before driving to work, according to the report. He told police that Garcia had been in good spirits.

Deportation officer Ramiro Sanchez told police that about 5:30 a.m. he and colleagues were conducting surveillance on an apartment on Albany Street, in order to detain Celestino Hilario-Garcia, a man who is wanted for "removal" from the country.

The report does not state what relationship that person has to Garcia.

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Sanchez stated that a colleague witnessed Garcia, who they mistakenly thought was the target, enter a vehicle in front of the apartment, along with a woman and a girl.

Sanchez and another deportation officer, Dimas Benitez, followed the car in black, unmarked Jeeps with tinted windows. They followed the car to an area where the couple dropped off their daughter, who was heading to high school. Shortly thereafter, Sanchez conducted a traffic enforcement stop on the car by activating his emergency lights.

As Sanchez got out of the car, Santos Hilario Garcia sped off on West Cecil Avenue. Sanchez said he followed the car for 15 seconds before stopping. He and Benitez then decided to continue on West Cecil Avenue in an attempt to locate the car, according to the report. They soon spotted a traffic accident in front of North Kern State Prison and called police.

Three witnesses to the crash said the couple's car was not being followed or chased and that no police were present, according to the police report.

Delano police officers were dispatched to the 29000 block of West Cecil Avenue shortly before 7 a.m. to check on the crash. Officers found a blue Ford Explorer Sport Trac overturned with the couple inside. They died at the scene.

In a supplemental report, a Delano police officer said that ICE agents stated that, due to their policy, they did not pursue the fleeing vehicle. Another supplemental report said that Benitez stated that he and Sanchez drove in the direction of the fleeing car but did not chase it.

According to the police report, when the two deportation officers were told they could leave, Sanchez stated that they were waiting for the male passenger to be identified, so they could determine whether he was the person they were pursuing.

Twitter: @brittny_mejia

UPDATES:

8:40 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details from the surveillance footage.

7:20 p.m.: This article was updated clarifying the spelling of Marcelina's name.

This article was originally published at 6:45 p.m.

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