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Driver charged with misdemeanor for October crash that killed two University students

| Friday, March 5, 2021

The driver of the vehicle who hit three Notre Dame students in October, resulting in two deaths and a serious injury, has received misdemeanor charges, the South Bend Tribune reported Thursday.

Justin Cavallo, 25, of South Bend, was charged in January for two misdemeanors: operating a vehicle with an alcohol concentration above 0.08 and operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

Cavallo struck Valeria Espinel, 19, Olivia Laura Rojas, 19, and sophomore Eduardo Jose Elias Calderon, 19, on Oct. 24. Espinel and Rojas died at the scene, and Calderon was seriously injured in the crash.

Cavallo was driving on Ironwood Road around 4 a.m. when he hit the students, and then made a sharp left and crashed into a house, according to St. Joseph County Fatal Crash Team (FACT) reports.

According to the report, Cavallo was driving in the outside lane next to the median strip on the 54000 block of Ironwood when he collided with the students who were on the road. There are no sidewalks in the area.

Cavallo sustained minor injuries in the crash, and he remained on the scene and cooperated with the police.

Following the initial crash, a Chevrolet Impala driven by Darlene Holden, 54, of South Bend, struck Espinel lying in the street. Holden has not been charged.

The primary cause of the collision was cited as “pedestrian’s action” in the FACT report. “Alcoholic beverages” was also cited as a factor in the crash.

Cavallo’s blood alcohol content was 0.13 the day of the crash, the South Bend Tribune reported. He said he did not see the students on the road until the collision. Rafik Tannir, 24, of South Bend, was a passenger in Cavallo’s car at the time of the crash. He said he did not see the crash occur and was looking at his phone at the time.

At the time of the incident, Cavallo was not arrested because police were still working to determine the cause. Because of double jeopardy, charges related to the incident could not have been filed at a later point had Cavallo been immediately charged with drunk driving and pled guilty, St. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter told the Tribune.

“We need to prove that the driver actually caused the crash,” Tim Spencer, commander of the St. Joseph County Fatal Crash Team (FACT), said in the report. “Ultimately those charges were not filed. [Cavallo] was just charged with simply operating while intoxicated, nothing pertaining to the crash itself.”

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