Judge orders release of man involved in fatal M Streets hit-and-run crash

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by TANYA EISERER

Bio | Email | Follow: @tanyaeiserer

WFAA

Posted on May 5, 2014 at 12:20 PM

Updated Monday, May 5 at 4:48 PM

DALLAS — A Dallas County judge has signed an order that allowed the release of a man police say was involved in a hit-and-run crash that killed a Cedar Hill police officer’s son last month.

Rogelio Avila, 24, was released Saturday from the Lee County jail in North Fort Myers, Fla. Dallas County District Judge Jeanine Howard, who came under fire last week for comments she made about a rape victim, signed the order.

Avila was originally charged with capital murder. The charge was then changed to murder before his ordered release.

Debbie Denmon, a spokeswoman for the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, said in an email that Avila was released on bond after investigators determined he was the passenger, not the driver.

"Police are trying to determine what if any charges can be filed [against Avila]," she said.

He was on probation for a misdemeanor at the time of the crash.

Authorities have said that Avila and his alleged accomplice, Dagoberto Castanon, fled to Florida shortly after April 15, which is when 13-year-old Ethan Vasquez was killed and his mother critically injured in a hit-and-run crash.

Police believe Castanon was driving a stolen minivan with Avila as his passenger in Highland Park on April 15 when they ran a stop sign. A Highland Park police officer attempted to pull over the minivan, but the driver fled, running another stop sign and driving erratically.

The officer abandoned the pursuit after he lost sight of the suspects as they drove into Dallas, but followed their last known path, where he found the minivan crashed into a Nissan Versa.

The Versa was carrying Ethan Vasquez and his 40-year-old mother, Sandy. Ethan died at the scene and his mother was taken to the hospital in critical condition. She has since been released.

The suspects escaped the crash scene on foot. Police found an assault rifle in the minivan and said the vehicle had been wiped clean of fingerprints.

Investigators found a phone in the car, believed to belong to Castanon. They tracked down his girlfriend using the phone, and she told investigators that the morning of the crash, Castanon arrived at her home with cuts on his head. Police said he told her he and Avila were in a stolen minivan when it crashed into another car.

The girlfriend told police she had given her old phone to Castanon, and after he showed up injured at her home, he asked her to cancel the service on the phone.

Castanon asked the woman to go to Mexico with him, but she refused, according to the arrest warrant. She said the last time she spoke to him was the day of the crash, when she dropped him off at Avila's home.

The girlfriend also told investigators Castanon told her he was unsure if the persons in the other vehicle survived.

Howard ignited a media firestorm last week and drew national ire after she publicly implied a rape victim was promiscuous and not "the victim she claimed to be." The comments were made in an interview with The Dallas Morning News and angered the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, the victim’s family and advocates for sexual assault victims.

The judge was also criticized for giving the admitted rapist probation, initially ordering that he do community service at a rape crisis center and not making him subject to standard sex offender rules and regulations, such as that he have no contact with minors. The judge has removed herself from the case and it has been moved to a different court.

Email teiserer@wfaa.com

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