Violent felons cross WA state line to escape justice

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by CHRIS INGALLS / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @cjingalls

KING5.com

Posted on May 14, 2014 at 10:43 PM

Cenobio “Hugo” Mendoza-Lopez is on the Washington State Patrol’s “most wanted” list. But if he’s caught in another state, Whatcom County prosecutors may not bring him back to face justice.

“He’s a horrible person. He ran from the scene like a coward,” said Teissa Oxford, who witnessed the crime Mendoza-Lopez is accused of committing. 

“It’s ridiculous. He should be prosecuted. It’s vehicular homicide. He killed his child and endangered others," she said.

Whatcom County prosecutors issued a nationwide warrant after the 2009 fatal car accident that killed Mendoza-Lopez’s infant son. But the warrant comes with a catch. Prosecutors indicated they would only extradite him if he’s arrested in one of ten western states. If he’s picked up by law enforcement in any of the other 40 states, he may not have to face charges in Washington.

“I don’t understand how they could even allow that to happen,” said Oxford.

Whatcom County has 676 warrants in the federal database used by law enforcement all over the country, and all of those warrants have extradition restrictions.

While Mendoza-Lopez’s warrant limits extradition to western states, most of Whatcom County’s warrants are filled in “no extradition” status -- meaning that prosecutors do not intend to take back a suspect even if he’s arrested in a neighboring state. Whatcom is the only county in a review of records by the KING 5 Investigators and USA Today that puts extradition restrictions on all its warrants. By contrast, King County has 162 “no extradition” warrants out of the 4,612 it has entered into  the national database.

In an interview in March, Whatcom County Prosecutor David McEachran said his office weighed the cost of extradition in its decision making process. It costs the county up to $3,000 to extradite a suspect, and it gets more expense the further away that suspect is.

McEachran insisted that his county will pursue violent criminals.

“For violent people, we’re gonna find them wherever we can find them and bring them back,” he said.

Since that interview, the KING 5 Investigators have reviewed detailed files about the warrants in the database. Contrary to the prosecutor’s claim, many of the warrants are for persons suspected of committing violent crimes.

Data from Whatcom County’s 676 warrants shows that authorities might not extradite:

-- 40 fugitives wanted for assault
-- 29 suspects in sex crimes, including 13 cases of child rape
-- 14 suspects wanted for firearms crimes
-- 9 vehicular homicide/assault suspects
-- 7 sex offenders who failed to register and have not been located

McEachran said another factor his prosecutors consider is whether there is enough evidence to convict the suspect at the time he is arrested.

“It depends on whether we actually have a case,” said McEachran.

Some of the warrants on file are years old. Mendoza-Lopez’s warrant has been on file since 2009. That’s when Teissa Oxford happened across his crushed SUV on Badger Road in Lynden. Authorities believe Mendoza-Lopez was trying to pass a car when he ran head-on into a semi. The crash ejected his 3 month old son, who was not in a baby seat.

“There was oil and gas and diesel all over the ground and that’s where he was lying,” said Oxford.

She knew in an instant the baby did not survive. The State Patrol found beer bottles in the SUV.

“I could see someone staggering down the road,” said Teissa. She says the father ran from the scene without helping anyone.

“Even years later, like it is now, if he’s caught I think he should be prosecuted,” Oxford said.

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