Authorities question driver's record and backgroundby Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio,
Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
The woman driving the van that plowed into a school bus in southwestern Minnesota this week has been arrested on suspicion of criminal vehicular operation. The Lyon County sheriff's office says Alianiss Morales, 23, of Minneota is being held at the Lyon County jail. The news came on the same day that the community of Cottonwood gathered to mourn the four children killed in the accident.
Minneota, Minn. — More than 1,000 people attended a memorial service Thursday night at Lakeview School for the four victims of the crash -- brothers Jesse Javens, 13, and Hunter Javens, 9, both of Cottonwood; Reed Stevens, 12, of Marshall; and Emilee Olson, 9, of Cottonwood.
Mourners who entered the school were greeted by photos of the victims and bouquets of flowers.
"The first thing you noticed when you walked into the gym was there were kids hugging each other, just holding each other in lengthy embraces," said Rae Kruger, a reporter from the Marshall Independent who attended.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty was also in attendance, along with Minnesota U.S. Sens. Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar.
While the grieving continues, state and federal investigators are still trying to put together the circumstances that led to the accident.
A van driven by Morales hit the bus broadside at the intersection of state highway 23 and County Road 24 a mile south of Cottonwood. Morales was traveling east on 24, and the bus was southbound on highway 23. The van struck the bus, which rolled over onto a pickup truck.
The Lyon County Sheriff says Morales can be held for 36 hours, then must either be charged or let go. The sheriff released her mug shot soon after announcing the arrest.
While law enforcement investigates her role in the traffic accident, a separate parallel investigation continues into Morales' residency status. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is involved in the case.
ICE spokesman Tim Counts says the agency has not determined Morales' legal status. ICE is working with the Minnesota State Patrol on the accident investigation, and on what Counts said were the various issues surrounding it.
Federal officials carried out a series of immigration raids last year, including several in Minnesota, that they described as a crackdown on identity theft. Counts declined to say whether identity theft is an issue in the Morales case, but he added this characterization.
"It's a very serious issue, it's a very important issue. But because the investigation is still unfolding, we just aren't saying much right now. We don't want to do anything that might jeopardize the investigation," says Counts.
Although Morales has not been charged with a crime in the bus accident, she was ticketed in 2006 for driving without a license in Chippewa County, Minn.
According to the complaint, a Montevideo woman had called police after discovering Morales' car was in her yard. According to the citation, she told the officer that it looked like Morales "does not know how to drive."
Morales pleaded guilty and paid $182 in fines and other charges. She had a Montevideo address at the time.
A source involved in the investigation says Morales was employed in Cottonwood at the time of the bus accident, but didn't say where.
Before that, Hormel officials have confirmed that she worked at the Jennie-O turkey processing plant in Willmar from October 2007 to January 2008.
Law enforcement officials in Minneota are still trying to find out exactly where Morales lived in the community. Minneota is about 15 miles southwest of Cottonwood. The police chief says investigators believe she lived in a trailer park on the south edge of town. So far, they haven't been able to confirm that.