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Prosecutor criticizes Trump for politicizing death of Colts player

February 7, 2018

An Indiana prosecutor blasted President Donald Trump on Wednesday for politicizing the case of an immigrant illegally living in the U.S. and charged in a drunken crash that killed Indianapolis Colts linebacker Edwin Jackson and another man, saying his and others' comments were "ghoulish and inappropriate."

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, a Democrat, said his office would "vigorously prosecute" the case regardless of the suspect's immigration status. Curry criticized Trump and others who cited the case as part of the nation's immigration debate, noting that "two innocent men lost their lives in this horrible incident."

Curry filed felony charges earlier in the day against the suspect, Manuel Orrego-Savala, a citizen of Guatemala who has twice been deported from the United States. Orrego-Savala is accused of driving the pickup truck that hit Jackson and his Uber driver, 54-year-old Jeffrey Monroe, early Sunday in Indianapolis.

"We are disheartened that ghoulish and inappropriate public commentary has politicized this tragedy," Curry said in a written statement. "Much of such commentary, including tweets by the president, fails to acknowledge that both Edwin Jackson and Jeffrey Monroe lost their lives on Sunday. We will simply seek justice on behalf of the families of those two victims."

Trump drew added attention to the case on Twitter and prodded Democrats to work with him on illegal immigration and border security.

Trump tweeted Tuesday: "So disgraceful that a person illegally in our country killed @Colts linebacker Edwin Jackson. This is just one of many such preventable tragedies. We must get the Dems to get tough on the Border, and with illegal immigration, FAST!"

In a second tweet, he added, "My prayers and best wishes are with the family of Edwin Jackson, a wonderful young man whose life was so senselessly taken. @Colts."

Orrego-Savala is charged with two counts each of causing death while driving intoxicated and leaving the scene of an accident. The two more serious counts each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

The 37-year-old said little during his initial court hearing Wednesday, responding through an interpreter as a judge explained the proceedings and charges. The judge set his bond at $200,000 after entering a not guilty plea on his behalf.

Investigators said Orrego-Savala was living illegally in the U.S. at the time of Sunday's crash. Late Tuesday, he was charged by federal prosecutors with illegal re-entry of a previously deported alien. He faces up to 10 years in prison in that case, which would be handled after any state charges are resolved.

His defense attorney, Jorge Torres, said Orrego-Savala's immigration status has no bearing on the drunken-driving case. He questioned whether his client could get a fair trial given the local publicity about the case and his immigration issues. Torres declined to comment on Trump's tweets.

Torres said his client has been living and doing construction work in the Indianapolis area for several years.

"He's very distraught to say the least," Torres said. "He's very confused."

Jackson's family planned no response to Trump's tweets about the crash and the suspect's immigration status, according to a family spokesman.

"We'll let the politicians do the politics while the family is just going to grieve and circle the wagons and try to heal from this tragic situation," Atlanta attorney Daniel Meachum said Tuesday. "The family is in shock, as you can imagine."

Prosecutors allege Orrego-Savala was driving the vehicle that crashed into Jackson and Monroe as the two men stood outside Monroe's car early Sunday along Interstate 70 in Indianapolis. Monroe was transporting Jackson for Uber, the ride-sharing service, and had pulled over after the 26-year-old football player became ill, investigators said.

Orrego-Savala was arrested shortly after the crash. A blood test conducted at a hospital determined he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19 percent, more than double Indiana's legal limit for driving, according to court documents.

Orrego-Savala was deported in 2007 and again in 2009. In 2005, he was convicted for driving under the influence in Redwood City, California. He also has numerous other misdemeanor convictions and arrests in California and Indiana, said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Nicole Alberico.

In the 2005 case, he pleaded no contest to two separate drunken-driving offenses and was given a brief jail sentence, according to San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

Orrego-Savala remained jailed Wednesday in Indianapolis. Federal and county prosecutors spelled his last name as "Orrego-Zavala" in charging documents, but his attorney said his name is spelled Orrego-Savala, a spelling that's listed among his aliases in the federal documents.

Prosecutors filed a motion seeking a DNA sample from Orrego-Savala, arguing it could help determine whether he was in the truck that hit Jackson and Monroe. Prosecutors also said the sample would confirm his identity, noting his various aliases.

When Orrego-Savala appeared Tuesday before a judge who advised him of his rights, he told the judge through an interpreter: "I wasn't driving the car. I don't know why I am here," Indianapolis television station WRTV reported.

A police news release did not mention the presence of anyone else in the pickup truck.

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