MOLALLA, Ore. - A man believed to be a hit-and-run driver who crashed into two cars and then took off on foot - without stopping to help the three people he had injured - was taken into custody on Thursday.
Eleazar Martinez-Ortiz, 20, was arrested at a berry farm in Molalla. He is facing three counts of felony hit and run, two counts of second-degree assault, tampering with evidence, identity theft and possession of a forged instrument.
The crash happened Monday night on Howell Prairie Road and Mount Angel-Gervais Road Northeast, about one mile east of Gervais.
Two vehicles - a 1989 Toyota Corolla and a 1993 Honda Civic - were stopped on the side of the road when a 2001 Dodge Caravan crashed into them. Three people were standing outside the vehicles trying to jump a dead battery when it happened.
The driver of the Caravan, and possibly a passenger, ran from the scene. Police later found several open alcoholic beverage containers in the vehicle.
The driver and passenger from the Honda Civic, 25-year-old Guadalupe Santos-Montes and his wife, 21-year-old Iris Hernandez, were seriously injured. Their 3-year-old son was secured in a car seat and was not hurt.
Santos-Montes (pictured at right) spoke with KATU News from his hospital bed on Tuesday. He said he was trying to help his stranded sister-in-law with a jump start when they were hit. He said when the Caravan crashed into them, he found himself underneath his sister-in-law's car screaming for help while the hot exhaust burned his arm.
Santos-Montes' sister-in-law, 26-year-old Florencia Hernandez-Bautista, was not badly hurt and was treated and released from a local hospital.
Investigators tracked down the suspected hit-and-run driver using paperwork that was in the Caravan. The van had been sold several times without being re-registered by the new owner but they found a document that appeared to be a permanent resident card with Martinez-Ortiz's name on it (the document was later determined to be fake). Despite all that, investigators were able to determine that their suspect was a migrant worker who lived in a camp just south of the crash site.
"The speedy resolution of this case was the result of a coordinated effort by many members of our office," Sgt. Craig Cunningham said in a news release. "The CRASH team provided the forensic evidence needed for the prosecution, the detectives assisted with witness, victim and suspect statements and the enforcement deputies used their contacts and skills to identify and locate the suspect. We hope this will bring some peace to the victims as they struggle to recover from their injuries."
After his arrest, Martinez-Ortiz confessed to being the owner and driver of the Caravan. He also admitted that he had been drinking just prior to the crash and that although he saw a woman lying on the ground, he did not stop to help her. He told police that he instead ran from the scene, removed his bloody clothes and discarded them.
Martinez-Ortiz also told police that he was the only person in the Caravan but investigators believe otherwise and they are trying to find out who might have been riding with him.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Marion County Sheriff's Office Tip Line at (503) 540-8079.