The three cars allegedly involved in a crash that left a Pasco teenager dead Friday morning were racing each other on a stretch of Interstate 182 notorious for reckless driving.
It’s an area where drivers are regularly stopped for excessive speed and is popular with the local street racing culture, say investigators.
“It’s a flat-out miracle this doesn’t happen frequently,” Washington State Patrol Sgt. David Kaiser said Monday.
Greg Bunger, who lives north of Pasco, is troubled that police didn’t crack down on these highway races sooner, saying, “If you've got an ongoing problem ... you bite the bullet and you catch them.”
He said he’s seen drivers drag racing three times near the 20th Avenue entrance to I-182, and his wife has witnessed them twice near Road 68.
Bunger said about a week before Friday’s fatal crash three “souped up” small Hondas or Toyotas sped by him on the interstate.
“They were going from the fast lane to slow lane and middle lane back to slow, just weaving in between traffic all the way. They must have been doing about 90 mph,” he said.
He didn’t call 911 to report it, saying he didn’t feel safe making the call and that it probably would have been too late for police to catch them. But after hearing about the 19-year-old who died in last week’s crash, “I just wished I had called 911 all three times.”
Over the weekend, Pasco police arrested two drivers after they were seen racing on 20th Avenue, a release said. An infant child was a passenger in one of the vehicles.
WSP is still investigating Friday’s deadly crash that led the Toyota Scion driven by Manuel “Mannie” Aispuro to flip in the eastbound lanes near the overpass exit for Road 100, ejecting the 19-year-old.
Kaiser said it doesn’t appear the three drivers knew each other and that the racing “was just something that initiated on the highway.”
It’s something he and other troopers frequently see on the interstate and other area roads with less traffic. Only weeks ago Kaiser said he pursued two cars exceeding 130 mph on I-182 near the Road 68 exit but only managed to catch up with one of them.
Investigators planned to meet Monday at Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant’s office to discuss what charges, if any, could be filed in Friday’s case.
The situation leading up to Friday’s crash could complicate how the prosecutor pursues the case, Kaiser said, since Aispuro “was a participant in the event.”
But evidence, including video footage, shows Aispuro and the two other drivers, Mark Mendoza, 16, and Manuel Rosas, 27, racing each other beginning on the interstate’s bridge over the Columbia River, said Kaiser.
Aispuro’s Scion and the two other cars, a Chevrolet Camaro driven by Mendoza and an Acura ILX driven by Rosas, were approaching Road 100 at “a high rate of speed” when Aispuro lost control and rolled around 11 a.m., the state patrol has said.
Aispuro, a former New Horizons High School who withdrew from the school in September 2014, was not wearing a seat belt.
Rosas remained at the scene after the crash and has cooperated with investigators, Kaiser said. And he said Rosas was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol based on an evaluation done at the scene.
Mendoza drove from the scene but turned himself in later and has not spoken with authorities.
Kaiser said Mendoza was confirmed as the Camaro’s driver from video footage from Chiawana High School and the drive-thru at the Krispy Kreme store in Richland’s Queensgate shopping district. A passenger in the Camaro at the time of the crash has spoken to investigators.
A witness to the racing before the crash caught the cars rushing past him on a GoPro video device mounted in his car. Investigators have yet to release that video to the public.
Toxicology results from Aispuro’s autopsy will not be available for several weeks, said Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel.
While the crash drives home the importance of wearing a seat belt, Kaiser said, it also highlights the dangers of street racing and what it can result in.
“It’s only a matter of time,” he said.