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Driver in fatal crash on Highway 49 sentenced to two years’ probation

A Honduran national in the United States illegally was sentenced last week to two years’ probation in connection with a collision that killed his passenger, authorities said.

Joaquin Lopez Pinto, 28, was initially charged with felony vehicular manslaughter after he crashed a Honda Civic on March 21. Pinto reportedly skidded off the road on Highway 49, near Alta Sierra Drive, and struck a tree. His passenger, who wasn’t wearing a seat belt, died. Pinto sustained only minor injuries, a California Highway Patrol officer said.

Pinto did not have a registered driver’s license, the officer said.

Authorities initially believed excessive speed led to the collision that killed the 38-year-old passenger, but an investigation by the California Highway Patrol revealed it wasn’t, said Nevada County Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh. That determination led to a reduction in Pinto’s charges to misdemeanor vehicular homicide, as well as driving without a license.

On Nov. 6, Pinto pleaded no contest to the unlicensed driver charge, in return for a suspended sentence and two years’ probation, court records show.

“This was a difficult case, there was a tragic loss of life,” Walsh said. “When we first filed the case, the CHP believed it was vehicular manslaughter. … But as the investigation progressed, it became clear they couldn’t say definitively what caused the collision. We simply don’t know.”

Pinto is in the country without legal permission, but this conviction won’t affect his immigration status, Walsh said, adding he doubted a low-level offense would trigger the interest of federal immigration officials.

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email lizk@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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