PERRY — For the 1,500-mile ride from Houston to Los Angeles last October, the 12 illegal immigrants had been crammed into a 2004 black Suburban with their driver and another man.
Some sat in the very back, where there were no seats.
One later acknowledged he paid $400 for his spot.
Their trip ended not in sunny California but in northern Oklahoma when the driver fell asleep on Interstate 35 the morning of Oct. 21.
The Suburban rolled over one-and-a-half times inside the median and ended up on its top about a mile south of Perry, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported. One passenger, Oscar Francisco Rodos-Molina, 18, of El Salvador, was killed.
Only the driver, Jonathan Rene Martinez, 26, of Houston, was wearing a seat belt, the highway patrol reported.
Last week, a federal grand jury in Oklahoma City indicted the driver on six felony counts of transporting an illegal immigrant.
Martinez is accused in five counts of transporting an illegal immigrant in a way that recklessly created a substantial risk of death. He is accused in the final count of transporting an illegal immigrant in a way that resulted in death.
He faces up to 20 years in federal prison on each of the first five counts and death or life in prison on the final count.
Authorities are looking for an alleged accomplice, Jose Heriberto Lopez-Rosas, 42, of Houston, who disappeared from an Oklahoma hospital despite suffering serious injuries in the rollover accident. The second man also is known as Ricky Martin-Guzman.
Martinez is being held on a second-degree murder charge in the Noble County jail. District Attorney Brian Hermanson said he will drop the murder case and let federal prosecutors proceed with their case against Martinez.
“The guy that instigated all this and who is really responsible for all this is the one who disappeared out of the hospital in Oklahoma City. It was his vehicle or his people's vehicle,” said Sarah Kennedy, who is Martinez's court-appointed attorney in the murder case.
“He was the guy that had the money ... (from) these aliens making payments ... not my guy. My guy didn't have 40 bucks in his pocket. ... They asked him to drive and then he fell asleep,” the defense attorney said.
About the other man's disappearance, she said: “We don't know why he's gone because supposedly he had a fractured or broken hip. He couldn't have walked himself out of the hospital.”
She said the most Martinez should have been charged with was negligent homicide, a misdemeanor. She said he wasn't hurt and would have run off if he thought he had done something wrong.
Investigators concluded there were 14 people in the vehicle at the time of the wreck, according to a court affidavit.
Some of the illegal immigrants fled after the wreck and are still missing, reports show. Five were taken into custody that morning. One was hospitalized in critical condition.
A highway patrol trooper reported Martinez said he had not known where they were heading and did not know any of the people in the car.
“I am not hiding anything from you. I am telling the truth. I have nothing to hide,” Martinez said, according to the court affidavit. “I am telling the truth. I do not know. I was just told to drive.”
The trooper, Adam Beck, reported finding a list with 12 people's names on it inside the Suburban. There was an amount of money written by each name.
The trooper reported that one of the passengers confirmed after being shown the list that he had paid $400 to get a ride to Los Angeles.
The passenger also confirmed he was an illegal immigrant from Guatemala and that they had missed the exit to go west about 100 miles back, according to the court affidavit.