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Trial for suspect in bus crash starts Monday

WILLMAR -- The jury trial of the woman accused of causing the fatal Cottonwood school bus crash begins Monday in Willmar.

Ogla Marina Franco Del Cid, 24, of Minneota, faces four charges of criminal vehicular homicide for the Feb. 19 deaths of four Lakeview School students: Jesse Javens, 13; his brother, Hunter Javens, 9; Emilee Olson, 9; and Reed Stevens, 12.

Sixteen other children, ages 4 to 15, and another driver whose vehicle was struck by the bus, were injured in the crash. Franco faces 17 charges of criminal vehicular injury.

According to court and state patrol documents, the bus was heading southbound on state Highway 23 around 3:45 p.m. Feb. 19 when it was struck by a minivan allegedly driven by Franco. The bus rolled onto its side in the roadway at the intersection with Lyon County Road 24, south of Cottonwood.

Franco, who is also known as Alianiss Nunes Morales, is also charged with a gross misdemeanor for giving a false name to a peace officer and misdemeanor charges for driving without a license and for not stopping at a stop sign.

District Judge David W. Peterson, who is chambered in Redwood County, ordered a change of venue for the trial, moving the Lyon County case to the Kandiyohi County Courthouse in Willmar. Peterson on Wednesday imposed a gag order on all parties in the case.

The judge denied a second change of venue motion July 8 that was filed by Franco's attorneys, ordering that Kandiyohi County is the "preferred location" for the trial. Peterson's first order granting Franco's request for a change of venue to Kandiyohi County was issued June 11. Franco's attorneys then requested a hearing to argue a second motion for change of venue from Kandiyohi County. Franco's defense argued for a transfer to another county where there would be a more diverse jury pool, better facilities and more convenient location for defense counsel.

Peterson cited several reasons in denying Franco's request, including that Kandiyohi County is sufficiently distant from Lyon County to provide the detachment necessary for a fair and impartial jury, yet close enough to allow those interested in the trial to conveniently attend.

Lyon County Attorney Rick Maes is prosecuting the case. Manuel Guerrero, of St. Paul, and Neal Eisenbraun, of New Brighton, are listed as Franco's defense attorneys.

According to the criminal complaint, Franco was interviewed by investigators with the assistance of an interpreter soon after the crash. She said she stopped at the stop sign and that the bus hit her. She gave officers the Morales alias.

The officers searched and discovered that the Morales name was false and used Department of Vehicle Services records to verify that Franco was using a stolen identity. Investigators later searched her Minneota home. Her certified Guatemalan municipal identification document showed her real name is Ogla Marina Franco Del Cid. They also verified her real name with relatives living in Marshall.

Franco was formally interviewed by investigators two days after the crash, upon being released from a hospital in Marshall. At that time she claimed her boyfriend was driving the van during the crash and that he pulled her behind the wheel afterward and fled the scene.

Peterson has ruled that Franco's defense can argue that the boyfriend, identified as Francisco Sangabriel Mendoza, and also known as Samuel Rivera Melendrez, was driving during the accident. Peterson's order allowing the argument -- dated July 16 -- includes information that the van was registered to Mendoza and that a potential witness gave a statement that he had picked up someone he knew as "Samuel" on the road near the same time as the accident. The order also notes that DNA of an unidentified male was obtained from both the drivers and passenger side airbags and that no DNA from either airbag matches Franco's DNA.

The evidence will be allowed at the trial, Peterson ordered, and "it will then be left to the jury to weigh all of the evidence presented at trial in deciding the facts of the case."