Officials give differing explanations about man killed on I-8

JACUMBA, Calif. — The California Highway Patrol and the U.S. Border Patrol confirmed for the first time Friday that a man was killed last month when he was struck by a car on a remote stretch of Interstate 8, but the agencies offered different explanations of whether or not Border Patrol agents were pursuing the man before he was killed.

San Diego County Medical Examiner’s officials said Cristian Lopez-Gonzalez, 21, was killed about 9:20 p.m. Aug. 25 when he was hit by a car on eastbound I-8 in Jacumba while being pursued by Border Patrol agents. A CHP spokesman confirmed three Border Patrol agents were listed as witnesses to the crash, which happened just west of In-Ko-Pah Park Road a little before the steep grade into the desert.

But a Border Patrol spokesman said agents were not chasing Lopez-Gonzalez when he tried to cross the interstate on foot, but that an agent patrolling the area heard the crash and responded.

It’s unclear why Lopez-Gonzalez’s death was not reported at the time.

According to the medical examiner’s office, Border Patrol agents were chasing Lopez-Gonzalez and another man, identified by the CHP as a 29-year-old, “after they crossed into the United States from Mexico.”

“During the pursuit, the decedent ran across the eastbound lanes of (I- 8) in Jucumba and was struck by an oncoming vehicle at a rate of speed of approximately 70 miles per hour,” the medical examiner’s office said. “The decedent was then deflected into the median strip and the driver of the vehicle stopped and called 911.”

That driver was a 69-year-old Brawley man behind the wheel of a 2013 Ford Escape, CHP media information officer Kevin Pearlstein said. He sustained minor injuries in the collision but was not taken to a hospital.

But a CHP report of the incident was lacking a narrative of the crash and provided only some details, like listing Lopez-Gonzalez as being at-fault for causing the collision, Pearlstein said. It also listed four witnesses: Lopez-Gonzalez’s 29-year-old companion and three Border Patrol agents from the agency’s Boulevard substation.

Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Mark Endicott issued a statement Thursday to City News Service that said agents were not pursuing Lopez- Gonzalez.

“The U.S. Border Patrol confirms that Cristian Lopez-Gonzalez was struck by a vehicle and died on Aug. 25, 2017, on Interstate 8, near Jacumba, Calif.,” Endicott’s statement read. “A Border Patrol agent patrolling the area heard the accident, responded, and immediately called (emergency medical services) for assistance.”

Endicott would not elaborate on that statement Friday and said there was “no additional information to provide” when asked about the discrepancies between the Border Patrol statement and the reports from the medical examiner’s office and CHP.

Lopez-Gonzalez’s death came about three weeks before two other people were killed on a San Diego freeway after illegally crossing the border in San Ysidro. In that incident, a man and woman, both 30, fled from a van that crossed the international boundary the wrong way on Interstate 5 early on Sept. 17. They were struck by an SUV and died at the scene, while seven others inside the van were arrested.