Woman charged in accident that killed firefighter

Neida Ortega
Neida Ortega

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.

Chance Zobel
Firefighter Chance Zobel


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.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

3 thoughts on “Woman charged in accident that killed firefighter”

  1. Tragic! My heart and Prayers to the Zobel family.

    Our Federal goverment should be held accountable! I know it could have been a citazen of the US, but being she is illegal, she will tried then deported? Sounds like a slap on her hand! She will be back here in the USA before you know it! A US citazen would be charged to the fullist and serve plenty time in jail!

    Studys have been done involving illegals here causeing fatal accidents. Just type in your browser and you would be surprised!

    Our federal goverment needs to enforse our illegal immigrant laws. About time that they work for their people. A shame all the perks a illegal can get when they disobey our laws and do as they please in our country.

  2. Getting our “pound of flesh” from a woman who is an undocumented immigrant will do nothing to bring back a dead wildland firefighter; he could have just as easily been killed by a drunken American redneck or a texting high-schooler.
    The real issue is addressing the risks of wildland firefighting in a high traffic area, and the need for effective signing and traffic control. This kind of event has happened before, and will unfortunately repeat itself again in future years on new wildfires. Let’s all remember the idea of Lessons Learned: concentrate on the “WHAT” and not on the “WHO”.

  3. Well I’m glad the feds took some action in this case, but she still needs to be held accountable, prior to being deported. I am suprised that she was still around the next day.

    Its tragic the fire fighter was killed and it’s a crime that there are thousands of un-licensed, un-insured illegal immigratnts driving vehicles just in Florida alone. I hate to think of what the national total numbers are.

    Several years ago one of our family cars was hit by one of the above. They hit, stopped, looked and drove away faster then hell. The plates were expired for years, belonging to a deceased person from the other end of the state.


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