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Suspected SUV driver in fatal hit-and-run in custody

Modified: Tuesday, Sep 6th, 2011

Jose Jimenez Hernandez

• Man wanted in connection with Brookings crash being held in Texas

A man wanted for questioning in connection with a fatal hit-and-run accident in Brookings Saturday has turned himself in in Austin, Texas.

Jose Jimenez Hernandez, 18, a suspect in the accident that took the life of 17-year-old Brookings High School student John Tyler Bennett, turned himself in to authorities late Sunday afternoon.

Hernandez is now being held on charges of:

• Vehicular homicide, a Class 3 felony;

• Manslaughter in the second degree, a Class 4 felony; and

• Failure to report an injury/death accident, a Class 6 felony.

Brookings Police Chief Jeff Miller on Monday afternoon announced that Hernandez was being held in Austin, and a second man wanted for questioning in the incident was being detained by authorities in Storm Lake, Iowa.

Police no longer believe that 20-year-old Louis Edgardo Ramirez Guzman was involved in the accident and there are no charges pending against him, but according to Chief Miller, he is on a detainer by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The accident that precipitated the flight of the two men took place about 2:30 a.m. Saturday at the intersection of U.S. Highway 14 (Sixth Street) and 22nd Avenue.

Bennett, a rural Brookings resident, was traveling north on 22nd when a 1998 Dodge Durango slammed into his car, striking the 1999 Honda Prelude on the driver’s side. The Dodge SUV was traveling east on Highway 14.

The impact of the crash pushed both vehicles northeast on the highway, both coming to rest in front of the Advance Auto Parts store.

Bennett was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police said the driver of the Dodge fled the scene on foot.

Both airbags in the SUV deployed, and that initially led police to suspect that there might have been two people in the vehicle at the time of the collision.

Based on where the cars came to rest, police also speculated that the SUV had been traveling at a high rate of speed.

Hernandez and Guzman are believed to have fled Brookings together, heading for Storm Lake and Laredo, Texas. The two men had been working together at a construction site in Brookings and staying at a local hotel.

Miller said the men are not United States citizens but added that their immigration status is unknown at this time.

Both men voluntarily turned themselves in to authorities Sunday afternoon, Hernandez in Austin and Guzman in Storm Lake.

The two also provided law enforcement officials with some information about the Brookings accident, and based on those reports, police believe that Hernandez was the driver and the sole occupant of the Dodge Durango.

Chief Miller said that while the suspect cooperated with authorities, he “cannot say whether Hernandez admitted guilt.”

Police believe the two left Brookings together, and that Guzman stayed in Storm Lake while Hernandez continued on to Texas.

Just when Hernandez will be returned to Brookings to face charges is uncertain. Unless the suspect waives extradition, the state’s attorney here will have to formally request extradition and arrange for transportation to South Dakota.

“I’ve seen some of these things take a week, but I really have no idea on the extradition,” Miller said.

The incident remains under investigation by the Brookings Police Department and the South Dakota Highway Patrol.

Miller had high praise for his officers, noting in a press release that “Brookings police worked almost nonstop” in identifying suspects in the case and developing information as to their identities and travel route to Iowa and Texas.

In particular, he singled out the work of detectives Marci Gebers and Adam Smith, “who worked tirelessly on this case.”

“If it hadn’t been for them,” the chief said, “I don’t know whether we would’ve captured them. I’m very proud of the effort my detectives made.”

Funeral services for Bennett are set for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Brookings. Visitation is from 4 to 7 p.m. today, with a wake service at the church to follow.

Contact Ken Curley at kcurley@brookingsregister.com.

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