SALT LAKE CITY – The driver of a sport utility vehicle that rolled and killed eight of 13 passengers was charged Tuesday with transporting illegal immigrants resulting in death.
Survivors told U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that the Rigoberto Salas-Lopez was fondling a woman while driving, contradicting the driver's claim that he was trying to avoid an animal when the vehicle went off the road and rolled at least five times early Monday.
But Lt. Todd Peterson of the Utah Highway Patrol said some survivors mentioned a horse or some other animal in the road.
Salas-Lopez, 30, was arrested after fleeing into the desert in the Four Corners area of Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, police said.
Authorities said Salas-Lopez is from Guatemala as are most of the passengers, and the rest are from Mexico.
Six men and two women were killed. Four men and one woman were injured and taken to hospitals. Their conditions were not immediately available.
Salas-Lopez said he was given the vehicle by a man in Phoenix who offered him $1,000 to drive the people to St. Louis from Phoenix, according to an affidavit by Timothy Chard, an agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
If convicted Salas-Lopez could face up to life in prison or the death penalty. He was being held without bail and it was not immediately known whether he had a lawyer. He is due in court Wednesday.