A prosecutor said Tuesday that Nemias Garcia-Velasco, 32, charged in the death of a passenger in a fiery July 5 crash, has been removed from the United States a total of seven times — five “voluntary returns” in 2005 and following two deportation hearings, one in 2009 and another in 2011.
Garcia-Velasco, who is from Mexico, also once was convicted of making a false claim to U.S. citizenship, Ryan Lindberg of the Douglas County Attorney’s Office said in court.
Garcia-Velasco was driving drunk and speeding about 1 p.m. July 5 when he lost control of his 2001 Dodge Ram van as he headed west on Interstate 80 near the Interstate 680 split, Lindberg said. The van was going over 100 mph, Lindberg said, when it hit a guardrail and a bridge abutment before it rolled and caught fire.
Garcia-Velasco later told officers that he had consumed 12 beers the previous evening into the morning of the crash.
When it was checked at a hospital following the crash, Lindberg said, Garcia-Velasco’s blood-alcohol level measured .243, three times the legal limit of .08.
Silvano Torres, 58, was riding unrestrained in the cargo area of the van and was declared dead at the scene. Front-seat passenger Jesus I. Gonzalez, 16, was treated at the hospital and released the day of the crash.
Garcia-Velasco was taken to the Nebraska Medical Center with severe burns. He later was released from the hospital and booked into jail. He has been charged with motor vehicle homicide and faces up to 20 years in prison.
Lindberg asked Douglas County Judge John Huber on Tuesday to set a high bail for Garcia-Velasco. “If this is someone who bonds out,” Lindberg said, “I don’t think we’ll see Mr. Garcia-Velasco again.”
Garcia-Velasco is married and has a child, a public defender told the judge in noting Garcia-Velasco’s ties to the community. She also said he had sustained significant injuries in the crash.
Huber set bail for Garcia-Velasco at $2 million. He would have to post 10 percent of that, or $200,000, to be released from jail.
Rosa Flores, who had been dating Torres for about a year, said she last heard from her boyfriend just before noon last Wednesday.
Torres texted her that it was too hot to continue patching a roof, and that he would call her when he got home.
That afternoon and for two days, she kept calling and messaging him, with no answer. She saw photos of the burning van and had a sinking feeling that it was the work van Torres used.
“I was just devastated,” she said. “There are so many unsolved things, so many questions. I was so hurt, I was so upset.”
Flores said she is angry that Garcia-Velasco allegedly was drinking and driving.
“If he knew that he was drinking and he knew that he wasn’t able to drive, why did he?” she said. “He didn’t stop to think about the consequences of what could happen. It’s not fair that he took the life of somebody else.”
Torres was a loving man who spoke fondly of his two daughters and son who lived in Mexico, Flores said. Torres had documentation to be in the United States, she said, and had lived in Omaha for about six years after working in other states. She said she does not know Garcia-Velasco.
In a local case from early 2016 that attracted national attention, Eswin Mejia, a now-21-year-old man from Honduras who was in the U.S. illegally, was charged with motor vehicle homicide and drunken driving after authorities say the pickup truck he was driving collided with an SUV driven by 21-year-old Sarah Root of Council Bluffs, fatally injuring her. Mejia posted 10 percent of his $50,000 bail set by Douglas County Judge Jeff Marcuzzo. Mejia, however, did not appear for the required twice-daily Breathalyzer tests and disappeared. Mejia still is being sought.
Mejia’s crime and his subsequent release became a focal point of Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign. Trump decried Mejia’s presence in the United States — and complained that Immigration and Customs Enforcement didn’t place a jail hold on Mejia.
Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure called “Sarah’s Law” that would require federal immigration officials to take custody of any person who is in the country illegally and charged with a crime resulting in the death or serious bodily injury of another person. It was part of a broader bill aimed at cracking down on sanctuary jurisdictions. The House also approved another bill that would enhance penalties for people who re-enter the country illegally.
The measures have not yet passed the U.S. Senate.