The suspect in a fatal hit-and-run hid his black Chevy S10 pickup within hours of leaving a father of four to die along a Tri-City highway on-ramp.
Then Sergio Garin-Villalobos, 32, spent the next two days searching for a replacement windshield as he read news reports about the investigation into the death of Martin Perez Garcia, said court documents.
He likely wouldn’t have been caught if it wasn’t for a tip from his estranged wife almost a year later, said Washington State Patrol investigators.
Garcia, 27, was walking home on Nov. 4, 2018 from along Argent Road when he started crossing the on-ramp for Interstate 182 and Highway 395.
Garin-Villalobos hit him sometime between 1:10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., said the WSP.
A passerby found him and a fog lamp from a Chevy Blazer, and called police. The model is similar to the Chevy S10 that Garin-Villalobos owns.
In the days after Garcia’s death, his sister made a tearful plea asking the driver to turn himself in. She did not want her nephews to know that the driver might simply get away without consequences.
The Washington State Patrol sent out several alerts asking the public for information.
It wasn’t until August that an anonymous tipster told detectives that she overheard Garin-Villalobos admit to his mother that he may have hit the pedestrian, according to court records.
The tipster also led them to the pickup, which had been sold in January to a family member in California.
It took investigators another week to learn Garin-Villalobos’ estranged wife was the tipster.
The couple had an unusual history. They married in October 2017, before splitting a month later, according to court records. They finalized their first divorce in June 2018.
“They had gotten married, but then things got weird and she wouldn’t allow him to move in with her and her children,” according to Pasco police during an assault investigation.
They got married again early last month, just a few days after she’d left the tips and had been interviewed by police.
Night of the crash
The night of the crash, Garin-Villalobos was nervous and angry when he showed up at her Pasco home at 4 a.m. driving his mom’s white Toyota Scion. When they arrived at his house in Kennewick, the Blazer was missing, she told investigators.
Later she checked her phone and found numerous text messages he sent, starting about 1:30 a.m.
Cellphone records show in the next two days he searched Craigslist for replacement windshield parts, along with multiple Tri-City news outlets for information about the investigation.
The issue stayed quiet until the first tip led police to the Blazer.
That weekend, she heard her estranged husband talking to his father. He asked his father if he “should get rid of the evidence,” and his father told him not to.
The problems intensified on Sept. 6, when Garin-Villalobos came at her house, beat on the door and demanded money for an attorney. Her refusal only made him angrier, she said.
He threw a trash can at her and chased her around the house.
When she threatened to tell police about the collision, he and his parents all told her not to go to them or else “it won’t be good for you,” said court documents.
He was arrested by WSP detectives less than a week later, and booked into jail.
Facing vehicular manslaughter
Prosecutors have until Tuesday to decide whether to charge Garin-Villalobos with vehicular homicide and tampering with a witness or release him. He is being held on $50,000 bail.
“The defendant has already threatened one of the witnesses. He told her not to go to the cops or else it won’t be good for you,” Deputy Prosecutor Daniel Stovern said while arguing for bail. “He also openly discussed whether he should get rid of the evidence.”
Defense Attorney Michael Quillen agreed the charges are serious, but said there is another side to the story. Garin-Villalobos has lived in the Tri-Cities for five years.
“The statements in the affidavit are allegations. They’re one side,” he said, asking for bail at $35,000.
The man, who makes $2,800 a month, is looking at hiring his own attorney, rather than using the public defender.
Judge Alex Ekstrom said the allegation raise serious questions about whether Garin-Villalobos was going to interfere with justice.