Fresno man suspected in fatal DUI: From fishing for crawdads to crash that killed four

The Fresno BeeJune 26, 2014 

Rien Ban spends most days at his southeast Fresno duplex home. He's on disability, the result of open-heart surgery that left him with a pacemaker, and there's not much to do besides hang out with family, drink beer and barbecue.

But circumstances Sunday led Ban to hit the road, borrowing a relative's Mercedes SUV to first go help his stepdaughter with car trouble near Los Banos, then to stop and fish for crawdads at a slough that was a favorite of his late wife.

After that busy afternoon, Ban was apparently headed home when he plowed head-on into a car on Highway 180 east of Mendota. Four people, including two Mendota children, died in the crash, and now Ban is in Fresno County Jail accused of drunken driving and facing four counts of felony manslaughter. He has a court hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

Ban's stepdaughter and a friend who was in the Mercedes with him -- a man whose wife was killed in the wreck -- talked Thursday about Sunday's events and about Ban.

Kelly Tuy said she called her stepdad around noon Sunday to say that she and her family were stranded with a broken-down car on Highway 152 near Willis Road in Merced County.

Ban, 43, borrowed the Mercedes and headed to help out, his stepdaughter said. "He's the type of man who would give you the last shirt off his back," Tuy said.

Ol Oeum, 37, and his wife, Sinoeun Uong, 37, joined Ban.

Ban fixed his daughter's car and headed toward Firebaugh to look for crawdads. A couple hours later, he ended up in the horrific wreck on Highway 180 near Sonoma Avenue, roughly 20 miles by car in a circuitous route from the crawdad hole.

California Highway Patrol officer Axel Reyes said Thursday that investigators still don't have a clear understanding of what led to the crash. "We need to talk to witnesses who saw the vehicles prior to the crash," he said.

The plea not only comes from the CHP, but also Ban's family and friends.

Tuy and Oeum, who is recovering from injuries he suffered in the crash, said the public shouldn't pass judgment on Ban until all the facts are known. They say passengers in a car that was in front of the victims' Kia could help the CHP know what really happened.

"We feel sorry for the victims' family," Tuy said. "But we want the truth to come out."

The CHP says Ban was driving east on Highway 180 when it smashed into a westbound Kia around 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

Suyapa Quezada, 37, of Mendota, was driving the Kia and survived. Her sister, Belkys Rodriguez Quezada, 25 and engaged to be married, was in the front passenger seat. She and Suyapa Quezada's two sons, Lisandro Enriquez Rodriguez, 10, and Danny Enriquez Rodriguez, 7, who were in the rear seats, died at the scene. (Court records spell the surname Quezada; the Fresno County Coroner's Office spelled it Quesada.)

The CHP says witnesses have told investigators that the SUV was passing a car and stayed in the westbound lane even after it passed a slower eastbound vehicle. The oncoming Kia slowed and turned left into the eastbound lane to avoid a crash, the CHP says. The SUV, which was traveling 65 to 70 mph, then turned right, and the two vehicles smashed into each other.

Oeum, who suffered moderate injuries in the crash, said he told CHP investigators a different account.

He said Ban had safely passed the slower eastbound car. Oeum also said a westbound car in front of the Kia didn't have to take evasive actions to avoid Ban's car.

"Why did she turn left into our path?" Oeum said. "Why didn't she turn right?"

In Mendota, family members say Suyapa Quezada has been too distraught to talk publicly about the crash. Instead, she is focusing on a memorial for her sons. Her sister will be buried in her home country of Honduras, the family said.

In Fresno, Oeum said he's in mourning for his wife. Tuy said Uong will be buried Saturday in her hometown of Sacramento.

Neighbors dropped by Ban's home Thursday to see how Tuy was doing.

"He's a good person," Peggy Corona, 53, said of Ban. "I feel sorry for everyone."

Tuy, 29, said she is worried about her stepfather because he has had open-heart surgery and needs daily doses of medicine. Tuy said Ban also still feels the effects of being shot in the back. He was among three innocent victims of a September 1996 shooting at a southeast Fresno party, police said then.

Tuy said she has put her faith in God: "He knows what happened. Hopefully, the truth will come out."

Her stepfather would be enjoying another casual day at home, she said, if she hadn't called him Sunday afternoon.

"We had a dead battery. He drove out to where we were, gave us a jump and everything was fine."

Tuy said she told Ban that she and her family were looking for crawdads in a nearby slough, but weren't having much luck.

"I want some crawdads," she recalled him saying, and the groups split up.

Ban took Highway 33 to his favorite spot off Avenue 7 near Firebaugh in Madera County. Tuy said she and her husband drove to the Mendota Wildlife Area off Highway 180 east of Mendota so they could relax under some trees while their children swam.

She said it was around 3:30 or 4 p.m. when she talked to her stepfather by cell phone.

"Where are you?" she asked.

He said he was still at the Avenue 7 spot -- a place he and her mother, Peov Tuy, often went before she died in July 2008 at age 39.

Kelly Tuy said she and her family were tired from being in the sun all day, so she told Ban she'd meet him back in Fresno. Tuy is Ban's duplex neighbor.

Tuy said her family was heading home when it passed the wreckage on Highway 180, but she didn't know her stepfather was involved. She said she called Ban's cell phone, but he never answered. Later that evening, she called Community Regional Medical Center on a hunch and learned her stepfather had been in the horrific collision.

Ban, whose injuries were moderate, is being held on $618,000 bail, facing four felony charges of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. His blood-alcohol has not been revealed by the CHP, but the criminal complaint says it was .15 or higher. The legal limit to drive is below .08 blood-alcohol.

Prosecutors say Ban has three prior drunken-driving convictions, but court records only list two of them. His last DUI conviction came in 2006.

Oeum said he, Uong and Ban had been drinking Sunday, but Ban had no trouble driving. Oeum said he and Uong were drinking in the car when the crash happened.

"I'm not going to lie. He drank beer while we were fishing, but not while he was driving," Oeum said.


Memorial fund

A memorial fund for Lisandro and Danny Enriquez Rodriguez has been set up at the Westamerica Bank in Firebaugh. The account number is 0629893272.


The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6434, or @beecourts on Twitter.

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