EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The driver in a Thanksgiving hit-and-run that killed an El Paso teacher entered a plea deal on Thursday.
Joel Velazquez, 24, pleaded guilty to accident involving death, manslaughter and tampering with evidence. He was sentenced to 10 years each for the three charges, for which he will serve concurrently. His time served, which is just under a year, will count toward his sentence.
When the judge declared the verdict, the victim’s family, who carried yellow flowers with them, broke into tears.
“I know that my actions were wrong, but I was scared, it was an accident and it was never intended for this to happen, I am very sorry for the pain that I caused them and the irreparable damage,” said Velazquez, who is in the country illegally.
Velazquez sped through a red light while driving drunk and hit 28-year-old Amanda Weyant Ferguson in the early hours of Thanksgiving 2018 in the Cincinnati Entertainment District near the University of Texas at El Paso.
Velazquez allegedly admitted to officers that he had five or six beers that night. He allegedly abandoned the car with a smashed-in window in a nearby neighborhood and told his father the car had been stolen.
In 2017, Velazquez was arrested and charged with assault, court records show. U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed that Velazquez is from Juarez, Mexico, and is in the U.S. illegally. He had been placed under an immigration detainer.
According to a criminal complaint affidavit obtained by KTSM, the previous incident happened the night of July 11, 2017, at the Sundial Apartments in Northeast El Paso.
The affidavit states that the alleged assault began when Velazquez’s neighbor confronted him and his wife about smoking marijuana outside his apartment. The woman reportedly replied “f— you” and said she was “asthmatic.” An argument ensued, according to the affidavit.
Later that night, the neighbor told investigators that he spoke to Velazquez’s father and advised that his son was smoking marijuana in front of his child. “Mijo doesn’t do that,” the father responded before closing the door on the neighbor, according to the affidavit.
The neighbor then walked back to the apartment but returned a second time to try to clear things up with Velazquez. According to documents, Velazquez opened the door and punched the neighbor in the mouth, breaking his front upper dentures.
Velazquez told investigators that he saw the neighbor with his hand in his pocket with an unknown object.
“You don’t know how to use your fist?” he told the man.
The neighbor later told investigators that he pulled out a pocket knife after Velazquez allegedly punched him. According to the affidavit, Velazquez said the man threw the knife behind him, but later retrieved it and began walking towards his wife.
Both Velazquez and the victim said that Velazquez’s father eventually intervened and brought him back inside the apartment.
According to court records, Velazquez was booked into the El Paso County Jail and was released on bond that day.
Since learning that Velazquez was in the country illegally, Weyant Ferguson’s father, Dan Ferguson, says his daughter would be alive if Velazquez had been deported.
Last month, Dan Ferguson appeared on “Fox & Friends First” and criticized the decision to suspend a Fairfax, Virginia, officer for detaining an undocumented immigrant involved in a traffic crash.
“I think (the officer) did the right thing. In my opinion, this guy’s a hero and should not have been suspended, at all,” said Dan Ferguson, who said Velazquez shouldn’t have been in the country in the first place.
“This is all because the people who arrested him on that assault charge didn’t make one phone call. One phone call to ICE like this officer did in Virginia.” Dan Ferguson said. “And he would’ve been arrested, he would’ve been in jail because he was convicted felon for re-entry and he would’ve not been around to kill my daughter.”
On Thursday, the judge stated that Velasquez could be deported because he is not a citizen of the United States.