Umapine murder defendant committed vehicular homicide in 1999

Article author: 
Phil Wright
Article publisher: 
East Oregonian
Article date: 
Friday, February 22, 2019
Article category: 
Article Body: 

Antonio Vasquez-Vargas, of Walla Walla, faces a murder charge for the shooting death of Renee Luiz-Antonio in late 2018 in Umapine.

If Vasquez-Vargas is found guilty, Luiz-Antonio would be the second man he killed.

The East Oregonian verified Vasquez-Vargas killed 73-year-old Floyd Murphy almost 20 years ago in a car wreck in Walla Walla.

The EO looked into the matter after receiving an email from Murphy’s grandson, Matthew Murphy, and an email from a friend of Matthew Murphy that contained clippings of Walla Walla Union Bulletin news stories about the fatal crash and subsequent criminal prosecution. The information led to finding more archival news reports about the fatality, a matching date of birth and the photo of Vasquez-Vargas in one edition of the UB that resembles his Umatilla County Jail mug shot.

Vasquez-Vargas, on the afternoon of Aug. 10, 1999, drove a 1976 Buick LeSabre from Chestnut Street onto Second Avenue, according to the Union-Bulletin’s reports, and struck a pickup. No one was injured in that collision, and Vasquez-Vargas didn’t stop. Moments later, he plowed the Buick into Murphy’s 1992 Dodge Caravan.

The impact knocked the minivan onto its top, according to the newspaper, and the driver’s side smashed into a telephone pole. Murphy died at the scene.

Vasquez-Vargas had a blood-alcohol level of 0.28 percent. Washington, like Oregon, set the legal limit at 0.08 percent, meaning the state presumed you were driving intoxicated at the level.

He pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide, but in the deal admitted to operating a vehicle in a reckless manner and causing a crash, not to driving drunk. He received a sentence of 27 months, which the UB reported was the top end of the sentencing range. Vasquez-Vargas also received credit for the 153 days he spent in jail before going to prison.

The Washington Department of Corrections confirmed Vasquez-Vargas entered prison on the charge of vehicular homicide on Jan. 12, 2000, the day after his sentencing, and left on March 19, 2001. The federal government deported Vasquez-Vargas after he did his time.

The United States District Court of Eastern Washington in 2004 convicted him of felony reentry into the country after deportation and sentenced him to three years, three months in prison, then deported him.

Matthew Murphy in his email stated hearing the name of the man who killed his grandfather “brought back a lot of emotions and the feeling of the system failing.” Matthew Murphy did not return requests for further comment.

The Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office lead the investigation into the shooting death of Luiz-Antonio. Sheriff Terry Rowan said detectives found Vasquez-Vargas had the vehicular homicide conviction. Umatilla County District Attorney Dan Primus said his office obtains criminal histories of defendants and he is aware of Vasquez-Vargas’ convictions, but he and his staff keep their focus on the case at hand.

Yet, like any defendant, Primus said, Vasquez-Vargas’ criminal history can have a bearing on sentencing. Prior crimes affect where a defendant lands on Oregon’s complex sentencing guidelines, he said, and the judge makes those determinations.

Vasquez-Vargas’s defense attorney, Kara Davis of Pendleton, said she has not looked into her client’s criminal history and is focused on his mental health evaluations.

The next status check on the case is March 6.