A Fresno truck driver who initially claimed to be someone else admitted that he accidentally ran over and killed a woman more than 20 years ago, a detective testified Monday in Fresno County Superior Court.
But after hearing Felipe Guerra Sanchez's reported confession, as well as other evidence, Judge Carlos Cabrera said there was probable cause to believe Sanchez intentionally ran over Carmen Achutegui, whose crushed body was found in an alfalfa field near the city of San Joaquin in November 1985.
Cabrera ordered Sanchez, now 47, to stand trial on a murder charge.
Decades ago, witnesses had identified Sanchez as the motorist who killed 31-year-old Achutegui, the mother of a young child. The case remained at a standstill until Kevin Buchanan, a detective with the Department of Motor Vehicles, found Sanchez in late 2008 working as a truck driver in Fresno under someone else's identity.
Never miss a local story.
Sanchez wore a red jail jumpsuit and shackles at his preliminary hearing. He has been in the downtown Fresno jail since Dec. 3. His bail is $1 million.
Buchanan testified Monday that he got a tip that Sanchez was calling himself Jose Manuel Rodriguez. But he tracked down the real Rodriguez, who said Sanchez was a suspect in a cold-case homicide. Buchanan then confronted Sanchez.
Sanchez initially denied his true identity and being involved in a woman's death, Buchanan said. But once in custody, he admitted that he had run over a woman.
"He said he had been drinking at a bar and that the woman was walking down the middle of the road," Buchanan testified. "He said he hit her and got scared and didn't stop."
Sanchez said he then drove to Los Angeles, abandoned the car and took a bus to Mexico, Buchanan testified. It was not immediately known when Sanchez returned to the Valley.
Achutegui's death, however, was not an accident, said prosecutor Lynmarc Jenkins and Pete Chavez, a chief investigator for the District Attorney's Office.
In 1985, Chavez was a sheriff's detective investigating the woman's death.
Chavez testified Monday that Achutegui was initially struck on rural Colusa Avenue. The impact caused her to lose one of her shoes. She ran into an alfalfa field, but the motorist continued to chase her, Chavez said.
Tire tracks show the driver ran over her and stopped. The driver then put the car into reverse and drove over the victim again, Chavez testified.
Achutegui's body was found face down in the field, her dress torn off. She suffered massive cuts and bruises and 10 broken ribs.
Chavez said his investigation led him to a nearby trailer park, where he spoke with farmworkers who lived and worked with Sanchez. Chavez said he found at least two witnesses who said Sanchez admitted to them that he had run over someone and "needed to get out of town."