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INDIANAPOLIS — Prosecutors filed felony charges on Wednesday against an immigrant illegally living in the U.S. who is suspected in a drunken-driving crash that killed Indianapolis Colts linebacker Edwin Jackson and an Uber driver.
Manuel Orrego-Savala, who is from Guatemala and has twice been deported from the U.S., is charged with causing death while driving intoxicated and leaving the scene of an accident. The 37-year-old said little during his initial court hearing, responding through an interpreter as the judge explained the proceedings and charges.
"He's very distraught to say the least," said his lawyer, Jorge Torres. "He's very confused."
Investigators said Orrego-Savala was driving the pickup truck that hit Jackson and his Uber driver, 54-year-old Jeffrey Monroe, while the men were standing outside Monroe's car early Sunday along Interstate 70. Court documents allege a blood test conducted at a hospital determined Orrego-Savala had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19 percent, more than double Indiana's legal limit for driving.
The two most serious charges each carry maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
Orrego-Savala was deported in 2007 and 2009, and was again living illegally in the U.S. at the time of the crash, according to investigators. He was charged late Tuesday by federal prosecutors with illegal re-entry of a previously deported alien. He faces up to 10 years in prison on that charge, which the U.S. attorney's office said would be handled after any state charges are resolved.
President Donald Trump drew added attention to the case on Twitter, calling the highway collision that killed Jackson and Monroe "disgraceful." The president also prodded Democrats to work with him on illegal immigration and border security.
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry criticized the comments, saying his office would "vigorously prosecute" the fatal crash case regardless of whether Orrego-Savala was in the country illegally.
"We are disheartened that ghoulish and inappropriate public commentary has politicized this tragedy," the Democratic prosecutor said in a statement. "Much of such commentary, including tweets by the president, fails to acknowledge that both Edwin Jackson and Jeffrey Monroe lost their lives on Sunday. We will simply seek justice on behalf of the families of those two victims."
Torres also said that Orrego-Savala's immigration status has no bearing on the crash case. The attorney noted his client has been living and doing construction work in the Indianapolis area for several years.
A spokesman for Jackson's family has said his relatives are devastated and planned no response to Trump's tweets about the crash and the suspect's immigration status.
"The family is in shock, as you can imagine. This obviously happened so unexpectedly," Atlanta attorney Daniel Meachum said.
Investigators said they believe Orrego-Savala was intoxicated at the time of the Indiana crash.
Orrego-Savala had a 2005 conviction for driving under the influence in Redwood City, California. He also has numerous other misdemeanor convictions and arrests in California and Indiana, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Nicole Alberico.
In the 2005 case, he pleaded no contest to two separate drunken-driving offenses and was given a brief jail sentence, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said Tuesday.
Orrego-Savala remains jailed in Indianapolis. Federal and county prosecutors spell his name as "Orrego-Zavala" in charging documents, but his attorney said his name is spelled Orrego-Savala, a spelling listed among his aliases in the federal documents.
He appeared Tuesday before a judge who advised him of his rights. Indianapolis television station WRTV reported that Orrego-Savala told the judge through an interpreter: "I wasn't driving the car. I don't know why I am here."
A police news release did not mention the presence of anyone else in the pickup truck.