Driver of car in crash that injured 6 flees scene

Suspect arrested; might be in country illegally

astice@islandpacket.comJune 4, 2012 

The driver of a car involved in a two-car crash Sunday on May River Road fled, leaving six people trapped and injured in the wreckage, authorities said Monday.

Juan Carlos Sonanes, 36, was apprehended soon after the 6:30 p.m. wreck after Beaufort County Sheriff's Office canine units helped track him down, according to Sgt. Robin McIntosh.

Sonanes was turned over to the S.C. Highway Patrol and has been charged with two counts of felony driving under the influence, open container, driving under suspension, failure to register his vehicle, no proof of insurance, no South Carolina driver's license, and hit and run with injuries, according to the county Detention Center log.

He also has been placed on hold by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, meaning he might be in the country illegally. He was born in Mexico, according to the jail log. His bond is $126,808.

Sonanes is accused of leaving the scene of a crash at the intersection of May River Road and Gibbet Road. Passengers in both cars -- six in all -- were transported to the hospital. Firefighters and emergency responders freed two people from the wreckage using the jaws of life, according to the Bluffton Township Fire District.

Two others with serious injuries were flown to a trauma center by a LifeStar helicopter. The other four were taken by ambulance, all to Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, according to a Sheriff's Office report.

Updates on the patients' conditions were not immediately available.

It is not the first time Sonanes has been charged with leaving the scene of an accident, according to county Magistrate Court records. On Nov. 15, 2007, he pleaded guilty to driving under the influence, driving without a license and leaving the scene of an accident and paid $1,392 in fines. At that time, he was not flagged by ICE, according to the jail log.

Detention Center director Phil Foot said his staff is required by law to notify the Department of Homeland Security and ICE when anyone not born in the United States is arrested. ICE can place a hold on the suspect for questioning with regard to immigration status.

"We have to satisfy all our charges first, whether they post bond or are released to immigration," Foot said. "If they go to prison, the (hold) goes with them to prison, and once they finish their sentence, immigration goes to get them."

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