Van driver's boyfriend and vehicle pulled over a month earlierby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
The woman charged with crashing into a school bus and killing four students last week in southwestern Minnesota has been identified as Olga Marina Franco.
St. Paul, Minn. — The woman accused of causing a fatal school bus crash in southwest Minnesota was pulled over by police just a month before the accident on the same highway and in what appears to be the same minivan. Her boyfriend, who was driving the van at the time, was ticketed for driving without a license.
In the early hours of January 16, 2008, a woman who went by the name Alianiss Morales was riding in the minivan on a stretch of Highway 23, about 40 miles away from the spot of last week's fatal bus crash. Her boyfriend, Samuel Rivera Melendez, was behind the wheel.
A deputy with the Kandiyohi Sherrif's office pulled over the Plymouth Voyager after noticing the license plate wasn't easily visible.
According to the complaint, Melendez was driving with a learner's permit, but not a license. His girlfriend told the officer she did not have a state identification card or a driver's license. Melendez would later pay $187 in fines.
The couple told the deputy they were returning home to Willmar from Cottonwood, where they worked. It was about 2:30 a.m.
A criminal complaint released last week said the woman who called herself Alianiss Morales had been living under a false name and working at a Cottonwood cabinet shop for about a month.
Authorities today revealed the woman's identity.
They said she is Olga Marina Franco, a 24-year-old from Guatemala. Little is known about her. She and Melendez had been subletting a trailer house in Minneota for about a week, according to the trailer's owner. Authorities said they have reason to believe Franco had been living in the U.S. illegally.
The January incident apparently wasn't the first time Franco had been stopped on the road.
In 2006, a Montevideo cop ticketed a woman who went by the name Alianiss Morales after she plowed into a resident's yard. The officer cited her for driving without a license.
Investigators said they're not sure if the woman accused of causing last week's bus crash is the same as the one cited in the 2006 complaint. But Sgt. Rohn Halverson, the officer who stopped her in Montevideo two years ago, thinks they are one and the same.
"I have seen her photograph, and I do recognize her as the one I stopped in May of 06," said Halverson.
Franco has been charged with four counts of criminal vehicular homicide. She's also been charged with running through a stop sign and driving without a license.
Immigration officials say they could not find a match for Franco's fingerprints in their database, meaning she's never had contact with immigration officials.
- All Things Considered, 02/25/2008, 5:46 p.m.