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Trooper: Driver of van was Franco

WILLMAR -- The Minnesota State Patrol officer who responded to fatal school bus crash near Cottonwood testified that the defendant in the case was the person he observed behind the wheel of the crashed minivan.

Trooper Dana Larsen was the second witness called by Lyon County Attorney Rick Maes in the trial of Olga Marina Franco Del Cid, 24, of Minneota. She faces 24 counts, including four charges criminal vehicular homicide for the deaths of four schoolchildren in the Feb. 19 crash.

Larsen testified that he observed emergency personnel attending to the driver of the van, along with responders attending to the students in the bus and the driver of the other vehicle, James Hancock, 47, of Marshall, involved in the crash. The accident happened along state Highway 23 south of Cottonwood.

During questioning, Maes asked Larsen if he saw the person behind the wheel of the van in the courtroom. He replied that the person was Franco, the defendant.

Larsen was beginning to testify about the interview he and Trooper Dean Koenen conducted with the driver of the van at the Marshall hospital, but Franco's defense team raised an objec-tion. Judge David W. Peterson and the attorneys conducted a recess and when court resumed, Maes directed questions of Larsen back to the scene of the accident.

During cross-examination by defense attorney Manuel Guerrero, Larsen testified that he didn't see Franco's legs when he observed her in the van and that he didn't know if the emer-gency responders administered any drugs to her.

Guerrero also questioned Larsen on whether or not anyone else was in the van and if law en-forcement has done anything to locate Francisco S. Mendoza, Franco's boyfriend, whom she claims was driving during the crash.

"We have not confirmed that anyone else was in the van," Larsen said. He also said that other agencies were looking for Mendoza and that reports he's received from the Bureau of Immigra-tion and Customs Enforcement includes information that Mendoza, 29, is now in Mexico.

Hancock also testified that he saw the minivan come from the west, not stop at the stop sign along County Road 24 and that the van was going fast when he saw it hit the bus. He testified that the bus was sliding and tipping over and that his pickup was struck by the bus.

Hancock entered the courtroom on crutches, still suffering from the injuries from the crash, and that he spent a week in the hospital and four months in the nursing home recovering from his injuries.

Testimony continues this afternoon. Read more about the trial in tomorrow's West Central Tribune.