Wednesday, June 25, 2008

East Ohioans on Alert for Illegal (Wheeling News-Register)

East Ohioans on Alert for Illegal

By GABE WELLS Staff Writer

POSTED: June 25, 2008

ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Belmont County residents appear on edge as a suspected illegal immigrant who avoided arrest in a diving leap from a massive retaining wall remains at large.

Erick Perez Hernandez may be dead, but the search for him continues today. He was one of 11 suspected illegal immigrants detained in a traffic stop at 12:08 a.m. Tuesday on Interstate 70 between Bridgeport and St. Clairsville, but he managed to escape by jumping head-first from the highway before falling 70 feet to the ground below.

Hernandez was not found Tuesday despite a massive search that included airplanes, helicopters and multiple police departments. If the suspect is still alive, sheriff's officials said Tuesday he is seriously injured.

At least five reports regarding Hernandez' whereabouts were made early today and late Tuesday to the Belmont County Sheriff's Department.

In three separate calls, Blaine residents requested a deputy to search the area because they suspected Hernandez was near their home. Each of those callers told sheriff's officials their dogs were barking, which was unusual for the late-evening or early-morning hours.

Deputies also were called to at least two potential sightings of Hernandez. At 12:07 a.m. today, a caller in Colerain informed the sheriff's department he believed Hernandez was in his driveway.
The deputy found a man had just been dropped off in the area, but it was not the suspect.

At 5 a.m. today, a deputy received a report of a man matching Hernandez' description riding a bicycle in Blaine. A patrolling deputy saw the cyclist - a white male in an orange T-shirt - and reported it was not Hernandez.

Today, Belmont County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Joseph Hummel said, if Hernandez is alive, he will soon need to seek food or aid. The chief said the search is a priority.

"If he isn't (dead) he is one miserable fellow," Hummel said.

"Time is on our side. We haven't let up. We've got a full-court press going."

The 10 other suspected illegals were transported to the Belmont County Jail on felony charges. Belmont County Sheriff Fred Thompson said Tuesday that officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement picked up those individuals and transported them to Columbus.

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