MISSION — Police are actively searching for a 21-year-old man who fled to Mexico after he led officers on a nearly 14-mile chase Tuesday and collided with a San Juan teen who remains hospitalized with severe head trauma.
Nineteen-year-old Enrique Rodriguez was wrapping up his night shift as a DoorDash driver shortly before 5 a.m. Tuesday when the driver of a truck — who police identified Thursday evening as Samuel Martinez — collided with his 2008 BMW 328i in San Juan.
What happened next is still being pieced together.
Martinez managed to escape on foot, and on Thursday evening, surveillance video caught him crossing into Mexico through the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge.
Mission Police Chief Roberto Dominguez said his office is working with the U.S. Marshals to locate him in Reynosa.
“We lament, you know, what’s happened to this innocent family and the situation they’re going through,” he said. “Unfortunately, these types of incidents sometimes involve innocent people that unfortunately get hurt in these types of situations. And we just hope for a speedy recovery for this young man.”
Enrique’s mother Citlali Rodriguez-Sauceda questioned why police didn’t nab him in the first place.
“Why didn’t they take him in,” she asked Wednesday before Martinez fled the country. “Most people in the Valley, I think, have family on the other side. That’s my biggest fear — that he’s going to flee to Mexico.”
Dominguez appeared to indicate police may have lost sight of Martinez shortly before the crash occurred.
Rodriguez-Sauceda also wondered why six police officers — at one point or another — decided to pursue Martinez through three different jurisdictions over a broken license plate light, and why the two supervisors in charge didn’t call off the pursuit.
“I just don’t get it,” she said standing outside McAllen Medical Center. “I don’t know what kind of s—– protocols they have.”
Dominguez said Thursday the chase is being reviewed by the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
“In a lot of these pursuits, the officer is given the ability to pursue an individual on a traffic violation — obviously with guidance from the supervisor,” he said. “The supervisor has the ability to call off the pursuit at any time, and at the same time, the officer can himself or herself stop the pursuit by calling dispatch and just advising that they’re discontinuing the pursuit.
“Obviously we don’t discipline our officers for discontinuing any type of pursuit.”
Two supervisors were working on patrol at the time of the collision.
“I have ordered an administrative review of the pursuit like we do in all pursuits, and then if I have to, I will order an internal investigation into the incident,” Dominguez said. “We’re gathering all the evidence on the case from the reports written by the officer to the body cam video, the video from the cars, the radio transmissions.”
Dominguez spoke candidly with The Monitor about the pursuit before his office learned Martinez had fled to Mexico. He gave details about the collision and acknowledged the role his staff played in the crash that left 19-year-old Enrique on a ventilator with severe brain injuries.
“We’re basically looking at everything…especially with the result of the pursuit,” he said early Thursday. “It’s imperative that we police ourselves and that we look at the safety of our citizens.”
HOW IT STARTED
A Mission police officer was parked somewhere near Inspiration Road writing reports, when two vehicles caught his eye. One was a black Dodge Durango driven by Martinez. The other a black Chevrolet Malibu driven by a 17-year-old later identified as Jose Alfredo Lopez.
“He had noticed these same two vehicles the previous night,” the chief said about the parked officer, “and he works the southwest sector in our community — closest to the Rio Grande River.”
It’s a high-trafficking corridor and an obvious problem area for law enforcement.
When the officer saw the same two vehicles pass by, he noticed Martinez’ truck was missing its license plate light.
“So obviously he’s gathering probable cause to make the stop,” Dominguez said, noting that at that point the vehicles came to a stop sign.
“The Durango turned, and that particular car (the Malibu) kind of blocked the officer and didn’t move from the stop sign — kind of giving the Durango some time to speed off.”
When the Malibu eventually moved out of the way, the officer passed the Malibu, caught up to the truck and tried to initiate a traffic stop.
“The Durango started to pull over and then all of a sudden it took off from him, so he initiated a pursuit, called it into our dispatch center going eastbound on Business 83,” Dominguez said.
The suspect drove east on Business 83 all the way to Conway Boulevard, and at Conway he turned right toward the Expressway.
“That (initial) officer lost visual of the vehicle,” the chief said.
But another officer near Frontage Road spotted the Durango and the chase continued with the suspect leading police onto the Expressway and into McAllen.
Dominguez believes the suspect exited the highway near Top Golf in Pharr and eventually found his way back to Business 83. He was traveling eastbound through the city of Pharr before entering San Juan city limits.
“And then unfortunately at that intersection of Nebraska (Avenue) and Business 83 there in San Juan the collision occurred between the black Durango we were following and this poor young man that obviously became a victim in this case,” Dominguez said.
It’s unclear if Martinez was injured, but he managed to run from the scene and into a nearby neighborhood.
“And that’s the thing. I think that the police, again, had fallen behind (during the chase),” Dominguez said about his escape, “and bottom line, when he collided, he ran from the vehicle and they weren’t able to locate him.”
As police and paramedics were working the crime scene and trying to get Enrique to a hospital, a familiar vehicle drove up. It was the black Malibu.
“At that point in time, the vehicle that was trying to block off the officer… arrived on scene and the occupant was asking a San Juan police officer the condition of the driver of the Durango — (saying) that he was related to them,” Dominguez said. “That’s when Mission police spotted the vehicle and arrested (Lopez) for interference with public duties.”
Lopez was charged with interfering with public duties and reckless driving, and was released later that same day on a cash surety bond totaling $2,000.
Seventeen-year-old Angel Rodriguez was asleep when his parents found out about the collision.
“That night, he had been DoorDashing. That’s what he does,” Angel said about his older brother, who recently enrolled at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to pursue a nursing degree. “As far as I know, he was driving home…And he had barely texted my mom. He said, ‘I’m on my way home,’ and we were just waiting for him. I was already asleep by then.”
Some time later, his mom walked into his room.
“And she tells me that there’s been an accident. And I was hoping that I was just dreaming. I just, I couldn’t believe it,” he said Wednesday, almost in a trance-like state. “And all throughout the day it didn’t feel real. I really couldn’t believe it. It didn’t set in until I left the hospital and I got back home.”
When Enrique’s mother learned about the collision, she immediately thought a drunken driver might be to blame.
“I thought this was like an isolated incident — that the guy had maybe come out of (a nearby bar). There’s like a little bar right around that area,” she explained Wednesday night as she tried to greet dozens of friends and family members who gathered outside McAllen Medical Center to pray for her son.
“I thought maybe he was drunk and just, you know, it happened. But then when I was here in the hospital, like an hour or two hours into being here, the investigators from Mission were here, and they said, ‘No, we were following this guy since Inspiration (Road),’” she said. “He failed to stop for a minor traffic violation…And obviously my guess is that he wasn’t doing anything good.”
Dominguez says his investigators have since learned the pair of drivers were allegedly trying to smuggle people.
“We were able to obtain information that they were here in the city of Mission trying to pick up a load of illegal aliens,” he said.
Police believe there was one more occupant involved in the chase, but that person is not an immigrant and has not been charged with a crime.
Anyone with information on Martinez’s whereabouts is asked to call Mission Crime Stoppers at (956) 581-8477.
A GoFundMe account has also been set up for Enrique, reaching over $10,000 out of a goal of $25,000.