Willmar, Minn., teen pleads not guilty to stealing vehicle and causing fiery crash
WILLMAR -- Ex-Savor Rene Cruz, 18, of Willmar, pleaded not guilty Monday to three charges, including a felony for motor vehicle theft, for his role in stealing a van, crashing it into a tree and then fleeing from the fiery scene in a residential Willmar neighborhood.
Because the Sept. 16 incident happened before Cruz's 18th birthday, he is charged as a juvenile in Kandiyohi County District Court. He also faces a gross misdemeanor charge for failure to notify police of an injury crash and a misdemeanor for underage drinking and driving.
Felony charges against juveniles aged 16 or 17 are public record.
Cruz's next appearance is Nov. 26.
According to the juvenile petition against Cruz, he suffered a broken ankle, wrist and jaw and lacerated his spleen. He refused to identify the passenger of the vehicle when interviewed by Willmar police detectives.
According to the petition, Willmar police officers were called around 3:30 a.m. Sept. 16 to Third Street and Grace Avenue Southwest for a motor vehicle crash with injuries. Officers arrived to find a vehicle crashed and engulfed in flames.
Witnesses said they saw a speeding van turn off First Street onto Grace Avenue and estimated the vehicle was traveling at 80 mph. The vehicle hit something in the street or a curb, causing the driver to lose control, and then struck a tree.
The witnesses helped the driver, whom they later identified as Cruz, out of the vehicle and told officers he seemed intoxicated. Others at the scene reported seeing another young Hispanic man lying on the ground in their yard.
The driver told the witnesses not to call the police and fled when he heard the sirens of the approaching squad cars. The description of the man and his injuries led to the 500 block of Trott Avenue Southwest, where two people were helping Cruz walk. He said he had been jumped by four men and had a bandage on his ankle.
Cruz was taken to Rice Memorial Hospital, where a blood sample was taken. Analysis of the sample by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension showed a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent and the presence of 1,1-difluoroethane. The substance is in canned air-duster products and is abused as an inhalant.
Cruz was interviewed on Sept. 17 by police detectives. He allegedly admitted to knowing the vehicle was stolen and that he fled from the scene. He said there was a passenger in the van, but claimed he didn't know who the person was, that he just got into the van at Regency West and took over driving near Jefferson School.
Police later determined the vehicle was stolen from the 400 block of 11th Street Southwest. The owners valued the vehicle at $2,000.