A woman has been charged in the traffic accident that killed a firefighter working on a wildfire in South Carolina on November 13. Neida Ortega, 34, was charged with driving without a license and driving too fast for conditions. Ortega does not speak English and has a license issued in Mexico but does not have a United States license. Investigators are also trying to determine her citizenship status. After being charged, she was released on bond.
Firefighter Chance Hyatt Zobel, 23, of Columbia Fire Department, was suppressing a grass fire in the median of Interstate 20 when the van driven by Ortega rear-ended a sedan as they approached the fire scene. The sedan was pushed into two parked fire trucks causing them to crash into firefighter Zobel and another firefighter, Larry Irvin. Both firefighters were airlifted to a hospital where Zobel died and Irvin remains in critical but stable condition.
A visitation open to everyone will be held on Tuesday, November 16, from 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at Dunbar Funeral Home at 7600 Woodrow Street in Irmo, SC. The funeral will be held at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 17, at Shandon Baptist Church at 5250 Forest Drive in Columbia, SC. Fire departments wishing to attend or bring apparatus to the service should call the Columbia Fire Department at 803-545-3749 for more information.
UPDATE @ 7:10 p.m. ET, Nov. 16
This morning federal immigration officers went to Neida Ortega’s house before she left for work and took her into custody. She acknowledged that she had been in this country illegally for 10 years and was taken to Charlotte for deportation proceedings.
UPDATE @ 11:20 a.m. ET, Nov 17
The State is reporting that Ortega will have to deal with the traffic accident before she is deported:
The [SC Highway] patrol’s [Kenny] Lancaster said that even though Ortega had been taken into custody and is slated for eventual deportation, nothing will happen quickly.
“Deportation is a lengthy process,” Lancaster said. Those targeted for deportation have a right to due process and can only be deported after hearings, he said.
Ortega probably will be released pending deportation proceedings to return to her Sumter home, and she will be checked on by authorities while the process is under way, Lancaster said.
The traffic charges against Ortega stemming from the firefighter crash will no doubt be resolved before she is ever deported, Lancaster said.