MADISON — It began as a search for a driver that crashed his car after going off the road and over the edge of Bolt Mountain.
Last week, fire departments from Wharton-Barrett, Van, Madison, Trap Hill, Oceana, Ghent, Pineville, Rhodell, Coal River, Coal City, Sophia Area, Lester and Clear Creek, as well as other emergency responders and law enforcement began the search at the intersection of W.Va. 85/99 on Bolt Mountain after it was reported by a passing motorist.
Nearly 100 firefighters and others began the not so typical search for a missing person.
“The terrain was a big danger due the thickness of brush and the steepness,” said an official with the Wharton-Barrett Volunteer Fire Department. “Another huge danger was snakes that a lot of people crossed paths with, Rattlers and Copperheads was seen. Another danger was the heat where the temps was closing in to 100 degrees.”
However, after several days of searching, the case turned from a search for a body or injured driver in Boone County into a hunt for a fugitive, West Virginia State Police officials reported.
West Virginia State Police said they are searching for Darnell Mendoza, currently a Logan County resident and a man they say is an illegal immigrant, possibly from Mexico.
Police believe Mendoza allegedly lost control of a vehicle and drove his wife’s Sidekick over an embankment on Bolt Mountain, then fled on foot to avoid police.
Sgt. C.R. Sutphin of the Madison detachment said Mendoza’s wife contacted authorities to report that Mendoza was OK. He had reportedly told his wife that he was hiding from police and possibly to avoid deportation. His wife is apparently legally in the U.S., and said she didn’t know his current location.
Sutphin added that alcohol is believed to be a factor in the crash and that the Sidekick vehicle belongs to Mendoza’s wife.
Mendoza is in his 20s, but an exact age is not known. Mendoza did not have a valid West Virginia driver’s license, said Sutphin.
Sutphin was unaware of how long Mendoza had lived in Logan County. He added that it’s likely Mendoza is a native of Mexico and that it was unclear if Mendoza has a previous criminal record.
Sutphin said authorities are searching for Mendoza to arrest him on charges related to the crash, including driving without a license, fleeing the scene of an accident and failing to report an accident.
Once Mendoza is formally charged, police will contact appropriate immigration authorities, said Sutphin.