Although described by his boss as "one of my most reliable drivers," the trucker arrested on suspicion of intentionally ramming a compact car and sending it careening off Interstate 5 in San Juan Capistrano has a history of speeding convictions in Texas, authorities said Tuesday.
The car, which its occupants said was struck from behind twice Monday morning by a tractor-trailer driven by Francisco Javier Nevarez, 40, of Tijuana, rolled over two or three times down a freeway embankment. The two women inside, who were wearing their seat belts, escaped serious injury.
Based on witnesses' statements, officers arrested Nevarez on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and felony hit-and-run driving. Late Tuesday, Nevarez was still in jail on $10,000 bail while the district attorney was considering what charges to file.
Authorities said Tuesday that Nevarez had been convicted seven times for speeding in Texas during the 15 months preceding his transfer to the West Coast last November. He has been driving for the Mexican firm of Hidro Gas Juarez, which, according to company officials, sends large tractor-trailer rigs into California, Arizona and Texas to bring propane, an extremely flammable gas, back to Mexico.
Alfonso Gallegos, general manager of Hidro Gas Juarez, said Nevarez has worked for the firm since October, 1982, driving in Mexico and in Texas.
"I never had a problem with him," Gallegos told The Times Tuesday. "He was one of my most reliable drivers." He said Nevarez has never been cited for any traffic infraction during the four years he worked for the firm in Juarez.
Told later Tuesday of Nevarez's driving record in Texas, Gallegos said he had only just learned of it himself.
"We really don't know about the citations because the drivers must pay them. We don't know anything until we get the records," Gallegos said.
The records show that Nevarez, who holds a valid Texas driver's license for large trucks, was convicted of speeding in Texas on April 19, April 25, July 22 and Sept. 26, 1985, and on Feb. 14, Aug. 12 and Sept. 29, 1986.
Mike Cox, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said that because Nevarez lives in Mexico, it is impossible for Texas authorities to suspend his license, even though his convictions easily qualify him for suspension.
"Under Texas law . . . we have to notify someone by certified mail that a hearing has been set to suspend the license, and you can't send certified mail across the river (into Mexico). We'd have to have him living in Texas," Cox said.
He said that even if Nevarez were to be stopped in Texas again for speeding, he couldn't be served with the required notice. "It has to be sent by certified mail to the person's residence. It's really an international problem," Cox said.
He said a person must be a resident of Texas to qualify for a Texas driver's license, but "a lot of times a person will initially use a Texas address when he first applies. In these border cities, it's easy enough to do."
California Highway Patrol officers said that when Nevarez stopped in San Juan Capistrano after witnesses flagged him down Monday, he showed officers only an ordinary California driver's license, not one that qualified him to drive the big rigs.
"This is the first time in the history of the company that one of my men has been in trouble," said Jorge Almaraz, manager and chief dispatcher at the trucking firm's Tijuana terminal. "If he had the wrong driver's license, it is the DMV's (California Department of Motor Vehicles) fault. You think that if one of my men had the wrong license that I would let him climb on?"
He said all 35 drivers at his terminal have proper licenses and he assumed Nevarez has the correct license.
Learned of Record Friday
Gallegos said that Hidro Gas Juarez trucks travel from the Tijuana terminal to Los Angeles, Bakersfield and Glendale, Ariz., for their loads of propane.
He said that every year the company requests the driving records of all its drivers who travel in the United States and it was only Friday that the company learned of Nevarez's seven convictions in Texas.
"We review the records of all our drivers, and we take care of the problems when they occur," Gallegos said. "We don't allow our drivers into the United States when they have a bad record.
"We don't fire them, but we suspend them indefinitely until they get their records straightened. However, we allow them to drive in Mexico. In this case, I would have notified the Tijuana office that he (Nevarez) had to be suspended."