ICE: Drunken driver in Mesa officer's death was in US illegally
Veteran Mesa Police Officer Brandon Mendoza was killed in the head-on crash. (Source: Mesa Police Department)
A flag is placed in honor of Officer Brandon Mendoza at Rotary park, which he helped to rehabilitate. (Source: Sean Gates, cbs5az.com)
An Arizona Department of Transportation traffic camera shows the fiery scene of a head-on crash that killed a driver and an off-duty Mesa police officer. (Source: Arizona Department of Transportation)
DPS officers said the suspected wrong-way driver was first seen in Scottsdale on the Loop 101 freeway near Cactus Road. The driver drove the wrong way on Loop 101, State Route 51 and Interstate 10 before the crash. (Source: CBS 5 News)
PHOENIX (CBS5) -
The wrong-way driver involved in a crash that killed an off-duty Mesa police officer had a blood-alcohol content almost three times the legal limit and was in the U.S. illegally, according to officials.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety said Raul Silva-Corona, 42, had a BAC of 0.238 percent when he was driving Monday morning the wrong way on Valley freeways for almost 33 miles. That's well above Arizona's legal limit of 0.08 percent.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Silva-Corona was a native of the Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico, who entered the U.S. illegally in 2003 at the border near Columbus, NM.
Records show Silver-Corona was apprehended by the U.S. Boarder Patrol in May 2002 near Why, AZ. He was then extradited to Adams County, CO, on an outstanding unrelated criminal charge.
The Maricopa County medical examiner said this week that Silva-Corona's death was due to "blunt force injury."
Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead identified the officer as 13-year veteran Brandon Mendoza, 32.
"We are saddened beyond words to report that one of our officers was hit and killed this morning by a wrong-way driver," Mesa police Sgt. Tony Landato said.
Silva-Corona was first seen going east in the westbound lanes of the Loop 101 Pima Freeway near Cactus Road in Scottsdale about 12:30 a.m., said Carrick Cook of the Arizona Department of Public Safety. He said DPS had received 33 emergency calls at its 911 operations center.
Officers caught up to Silva-Corona minutes later, who was heading south on the northbound lanes of State Route 51. DPS said officers set out spikes in an attempt to stop the driver but their attempt was unsuccessful.
According to DPS, officers attempted to barricade the wrong-way driver near State Route 51 and Thomas Road.
"We tried to ram the vehicle," Cook said. "That was the only chance we had, we were stretched thin that night and we did the best we could."
According to DPS, there were about two dozen officers staffed overnight. Half of the on-duty patrols responded in an effort to stop Corona. The other half were tied up on other emergency calls.
DPS estimated Silva-Corona was going the wrong way on three Valley freeways for 33 miles before crashing head-on into the off-duty officer on a blind curve of an Interstate 10-U.S. 60 flyover ramp.
Cook said it was by chance Silva-Corona was able to drive nearly 40 miles the wrong way without creating more damage.
"Wrong-way drivers typically crash before long periods of time," Cook said, adding that light traffic on a Sunday night also contributed to the length of the time Silva-Corona was on the road without crashing sooner.
Cook said a DPS officer tried to intercept and ram Silva-Corona in a Chevrolet Trailblazer going south on northbound State Route 51, but the driver went around and took off before heading east on westbound Interstate 10.
Silva-Corona then traveled the wrong way up an HOV ramp from U.S. Highway 60, where the SUV struck a Volkswagen Passat driven by Mendoza just before 1 a.m., Cook said. Both cars erupted in flames.
Mendoza was returning home from his shift when his car was struck, Cook said.
"We just didn't have enough officers," Cook said. "If we could have, we would have stopped him sooner."
Silva-Corona died at the scene, and the officer was taken to a Phoenix hospital with life-threatening injuries, but later died.
The Arizona Department of Transportation said the two HOV ramps for U.S. 60 west to I-10 west, and I-10 east to U.S. 60 east were closed for some time Monday morning for the investigation.
The rest of the lanes remained open.
Stay with cbs5az.com and CBS 5 News as this story develops.