A 23-year-old man suspected of killing a Kennewick father in a Pasco hit-and-run crash has a lengthy criminal record, including a 2009 arrest for recklessly driving and running from police.
Miguel A. Paniagua is a documented gang member who has been wanted since February for failing to pay his fines and fees on six court cases. Some of those cases date to 2008 when Paniagua was a juvenile.
On Monday, Pasco police named Paniagua as the man who was behind the wheel April 2 when a pickup broadsided a car while trying to avoid a traffic stop.
Surveillance video from a nearby property reportedly shows the suspect leaving the Road 36 and Sylvester Street scene on foot. A police dog tracked his scent to Road 40 but it ended there.
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Jason Edward Smith, 36, of Kennewick, died a short time later at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland.
“We are actively following (information) that may lead to where (Paniagua) is at,” Sgt. Brad Gregory told the Herald late Monday afternoon. “We have detectives working on them as we speak.”
Gregory also said that investigators were in the process of getting an arrest warrant for Paniagua on a vehicular homicide charge.
The crash happened at 5:20 p.m., shortly after an officer had tried to stop a 2004 Chevy C/K 1500 at Fifth Avenue and Sylvester Street for an illegal lane change, police said.
The driver raced away and, after a few blocks, police stopped the pursuit for safety reasons. Paniagua kept going and ultimately slammed into the passenger side of Smith’s 1999 Honda Accord, police said.
Both the Chevy and the Honda ended up off the road next to a front yard. Smith’s car was caved in during the wreck.
An autopsy performed Friday showed Smith died from injuries to his chest and head, according to the Franklin County Coroner’s Office. His death was ruled a homicide.
Smith had just dropped off his 6-year-old daughter, Mila, at gymnastics class and was driving to the post office to pick up mail for his small business, Logical IT Solutions.
A Kennewick native and 1997 Kamiakin High graduate, Smith also left behind his wife, Wendy, 15-year-old daughter, TriStar, and extended family. His memorial service is 1 p.m. April 10 at Kennewick’s South Hills Church, 3700 W. 27th Ave.
A GoFundMe account, www.gofundme.com/qwf6bg, is set up to help his family with expenses in the wake of his sudden death.
Police don’t know how fast Paniagua was driving at the time of the crash. Washington State Patrol investigators and a trooper were at the scene Monday taking measurements that may help them eventually determine the speed.
Paniagua is described as being about 5-foot-3, 130 pounds, with a shaved head or very short hair with a distinct front hairline, Capt. Ken Roske said in a news release.
He also has tattoos at the base of his neck.
Paniagua skipped a Feb. 26 hearing in Franklin County Superior Court regarding his legal financial obligations. Court Commissioner Jerri Potts issued six felony arrest warrants for his failure to appear.
Court records show that Paniagua had two criminal cases in 2007, but the matters were dealt with in diversion so he didn’t get convictions or a criminal record.
One document in 2008 notes he “has a severe substance abuse issue, is gang involved, and continues to commit criminal offenses.”
Paniagua was 16 when he was charged six times in seven months in Juvenile Court. Some of the crimes occurred just days apart.
Two cases were for obstructing a law enforcement officer, a gross misdemeanor, and three involved being a minor in public after consuming alcohol.
In September 2008, he was charged with second-degree criminal trespass and possession of a dangerous weapon on school premises for being in Pasco High School’s Edgar Brown Stadium. The charge for having a serrated knife was dropped in a plea agreement.
The following day, Paniagua got into a fight with a 14-year-old at Salon Playa on East Columbia Street. He admitted one count of fourth-degree assault for hitting the teen with his fist.
The longest sentence he got for any of the 2008 cases was 10 days in juvenile detention.
In March 2009, Paniagua was on intensive supervision when he was found hanging out with another gang member and had brass knuckles within his reach. He entered an Alford plea to possession of a dangerous weapon, a gross misdemeanor, and got 10 days in juvenile detention.
Four months later, Paniagua was seen driving recklessly in downtown Pasco and ignored police attempts to stop his vehicle.
Paniagua drove across Peanuts Park and a sidewalk on Lewis Street, reached speeds more than twice the posted limit and ran red lights and stop signs before the car slid sideways into a curb at Alvina Street and Douglas Avenue. The driver ran away from the scene.
The car’s owner, who worked as a security guard at a downtown club, was surprised to see his car go by his job twice during the chase because he’d left it parked at home. He identified Paniagua and said the suspect was friends with his landlord’s son and must have taken the keys from his bedroom.
Paniagua pleaded guilty to attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle, a felony, and second-degree driving with a suspended license, a gross misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 30 days in detention on the felony and 10 days for the suspended license.
As an adult, Paniagua was charged in May 2011 with second-degree assault for a brutal gang fight at the Pasco Flea Market. He admitted hitting a 13-year-old boy in the face, sending the victim to the ground, then kicking the teen in the head until he was unconscious.
Paniagua, who also reportedly held a pistol within a foot of another person’s face, got six months in jail.
Rival gang members had retaliated for the flea market beating by opening fire on Paniagua’s West Pearl Street apartment. No one was hurt in that incident, but three children were inside sleeping at the time.
And one year ago, Paniagua confronted a 26-year-old man he believed was a gang member.
Paniagua acted like he had a gun by putting his hand in his waist area, identified his gang and told the victim he was going to shoot him, court documents show. The man feared for his life and ran into his back yard to to get away, documents show.
Paniagua pleaded guilty to felony harassment for making a threat to kill, and in July was sentenced to three months in jail with the opportunity to do the time on work release if eligible.
Crime Stoppers pays a cash reward of up to $1,000 for information that leads to the arrest in any felony crime.
Tips also can be texted to “Text TIP 411” plus your message to CRIMES (274637).