March 13, 2014 | Vol. 117 -- No. 47

State Patrol opens homicide investigation into crash killing two Eastern Washington University students

The Washington State Patrol is conducting a homicide investigation into a Feb. 21 car-semi-truck collision outside Colfax that resulted in the deaths of two Eastern Washington University students.

State Patrol public information officer Jeff Sevigeny confirmed media accounts they are looking into the possibility that 21-year-old Erica Polito Mosso was driving impaired when she may have slid on black ice around 4:45 a.m. Polito Mosso’s northbound 1999 Volkswagen Jetta went sideways on Highway 195 outside of Colfax and was struck by a southbound 2004 Freightliner tractor, towing two trailers, driven by Virgil Baumgarden.

Two of Polito Mosso’s passengers, Nancy G. Zepeda Zarate and Ashley M. Gonzalez, both 21-years-old, died at the scene. Polito Mosso and another passenger, Carmen J. Gomez Villalpando, were injured and transported to area hospitals. All four women were members of EWU’s Chicano Education Program.

Sevigney said the hospital treating Polito Mosso alerted the State Patrol to the fact that tests revealed she had alcohol in her bloodstream. He added there was no evidence at the collision site to alert investigating officers to the fact that alcohol may have been involved.

“That’s why we applied for a search warrant to get a sample of the blood for our crime lab,” Sevigney said.

Polito Mosso’s blood alcohol level measured 0.081, just above the legal threshold to drive. A subsequent investigation revealed she drank a cocktail containing around 2.5 shots of liquor at a Pullman bar early on Feb. 21. After only a couple hours sleep, she attempted to drive home with the other three young women.

Gomez Villalpando also told an investigator she did not believe Polito Mosso was drunk.

Sevigney said the investigation is ongoing and could take several weeks or several months to wrap up. Once completed, the State Patrol will turn over their findings to the Whitman County prosecutor for consideration of any charges.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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