A 20-year-old Central American who drove drunk in St. Paul and caused a crash that killed a motorist and injured a passenger in another vehicle pleaded guilty to the lesser of two felony counts, received credit for time in jail since his arrest and was deported back to his homeland.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers put Jose O. Vasquez-Guillen on a charter flight Monday bound for his native El Salvador, less than a month after he admitted in Ramsey County District Court to criminal vehicular operation in connection with the two-vehicle crash on April 3, 2019, south of the St. Paul Downtown Airport. Mark J. O'Gara, 52, of St. Paul, was killed in the crash.
"This case illustrates the public benefits when local, state and federal law enforcement agencies cooperate to remove dangerous individuals from our communities," Shawn Byers, ICE's acting field office director for St. Paul, said Tuesday. "Vasquez was convicted of causing the death of a member of our community, and his removal from the country means he is now no longer able to cause harm to the residents of Minnesota."
Vasquez-Guillen was unaccompanied when at age 15 he entered the United States illegally in January 2016 in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, according to ICE. In March 2016, he was turned over to a relative in Oklahoma as his immigration case proceeded. He missed a court date, and a judge in Dallas ordered him deported in August 2016.
The next time he had contact with federal authorities was while in the Ramsey County jail after causing the deadly crash.
The charges say Vasquez-Guillen's blood alcohol content after the crash was 0.149%, well above the legal limit. He also was driving without a license as he sped south on Concord Street and hit O'Gara's car leaving a driveway.
Vasquez-Guillen reached a plea deal on Dec. 20 with the Ramsey County Attorney's Office that dismissed the criminal vehicular homicide count connected to O'Gara's death in exchange for admitting to criminal vehicular operation for causing minor injuries to a woman riding with O'Gara.
Upon conviction before Judge JaPaul Harris and with sentencing for Feb. 12 still pending that could have meant a three-year prison term, Vasquez-Guillen was swiftly turned over to ICE custody, then moved on Jan. 15 to a holding facility in Louisiana before his flight back to El Salvador.
Dennis Gerhardstein, spokesman for the County Attorney's Office, explained that Vasquez-Guillen was turned over to federal authorities after "he had served over a year in custody" following the crash.
Gerhardstein also said that O'Gara's family "was supportive of the plea agreement after we met and discussed all of the evidence."
O'Gara left behind a wife, 10 children and six grandchildren.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482