Driver in Raleigh crash that killed 3 could spend decades in prison

A Wake County District Court judge Monday told a Goldsboro man that he could spend more than 70 years in prison if he is convicted of drunken driving and felony charges following a weekend crash in Raleigh that killed three people and injured three others.

In addition to DWI, police charged Jaciel Espino-Montes, 22, with three counts of aggravated felony death by vehicle and three counts of aggravated felony serious injury by vehicle. The accident took place on Highwoods Boulevard about 2:30 a.m. Sunday.

During Espino-Montes’ first court appearance, Wake District Court Judge Jacqueline Brewer told him he could face up to 17 years in prison “per count” if he is convicted of aggravated felony death by vehicle and more than 7 years for each count of aggravated felony serious injury.

His father, Arias Espino, who pastors a church in Newton Grove, spoke briefly after leaving the courtroom, saying he is praying for the families of those who were hurt or died in the accident.

“I’m a Christian man,” he said. “I’m praying for my son and for all the people who died. I came here to look at my son. I know everything will be okay.”

Police said the 1995 Isuzu sport utility vehicle that Espino-Montes was driving was going about 50 mph when it went off the right side of Highwoods Boulevard on the way from Capital Boulevard to Atlantic Avenue. Espino-Montes over-corrected, and the Isuzu went off the left side of the pavement and into the median, hitting a light pole, a street sign and a tree before overturning.

There were seven people in the SUV, police said. Nelson Daniel Velazquez, 21, of Dudley; Tomas Rivera Jr., 18, of Newton Grove, and Pau Bautista, 22, of Benson were killed. Police say the crash threw Bautista and Rivera out of the vehicle.

One of the injured passengers, a woman from Mount Olive, was sitting on Rivera’s lap when the crash happened, police said, but she survived. Two of the passengers taken to WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh had been released by Monday. Floruby Juarez of Benson was in fair condition, the hospital said.

The Isuzu was owned by a Newton Grove woman who was not with the group, the report said.

Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have filed a detention request for Espino-Montes, saying that they will seek to deport him to his native Mexico after North Carolina’s case against him is finished. ICE officials stated that he either is in the United States illegally or “is removable under U.S. immigration law” if he is in the country legally.

According to state court records, Espino-Montes is due to appear in court in Johnston County on Oct. 18 in connection with a citation from the State Highway Patrol for speeding and driving with a license revoked because of a DWI conviction in Wayne County in 2011. That citation was issued March 23.

Ron Gallagher: 919-829-4572, @RPGKT