A man who was fatally struck by a car in Mecca in 1997 and has spent the last twenty years unidentified was finally identified using new fingerprint technology; bringing final closure to the victim’s family – who have been searching for their missing relative and loved one all these years.
Sheriff-Coroner officials identified the man as 32-year-old, Mario Alberto Ortiz-Vicente, AKA: Manuel Beltran Bueno, according to Riverside County Sheriff-Coroner Lieutenant April Smith, who explained how Vicente was finally identified after two decades.
Vicente died when he was struck by a car while walking across Highway 111, near Colfax Street, in Mecca, June 24, 1997. despite life-saving efforts, Vicente succumbed to his injuries and died at the scene.
The driver of the vehicle that fatally struck Vicente remained at the scene after the deadly crash and cooperated with law enforcement officials investigating the fatal collision.
“All initial efforts to identify (Vicente) were unsuccessful,” said Smith.
“Further attempts to identify the decedent have been made over the last 20 years, including multiple fingerprint submissions to the Department of Justice, Bureau of Identification and the FBI, searches of local missing persons as well as sketch and information distribution through the Coroner’s website,” Smith explained. “In most recent years, submission of case information to NamUs, the National Institute of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System,” proved to be the key to unlocking the decades-old case.
The case finally broke wide open on May 1, the FBI’s Major Incident Program/Latent Prints Support Unit contacted the Coroner’s Bureau to report they had positively identified Vicente as the victim from twenty years ago.
Despite successfully identifying the victim, officials were initially unsuccessful in locating or notifying Vicente’s family.
In an effort to locate the victim’s family, Riverside County Public Administrators contacted the Mexican Consulate, asking for help locating the man’s family.
On June 28, after an extensive search for family, the Mexican Consulate successfully located and notified Vicente’s loved ones of his passing.
Mexican Consulate officials learned that Vicente lived in Mexicali, but would travel to the United States for work.
Twenty years earlier, Vicente’s family heard through co-workers that he had been involved in an accident. After months without contact from Vicente, the family filed missing person reports in Kern and Imperial Counties and made inquiries with multiple law enforcement agencies; however the family never contacted Riverside County, where Vicente died.
Ortiz’ family was “extremely relieved” to “finally be provided answers and closure in the search for their loved one,” said Smith.
While the persistent efforts by all involved agencies resulted in the successful identification of Vicente and subsequently led to the notification of his family, Riverside County Sheriff-Coroner’s officials are still working diligently to identify more than 50 unidentified victims dating back to 1969; all who remain unidentified to this day.
The most recent victim to be added to the Coroner’s list of unidentified victims was a 40-year-old male who died last year on July 26.
A complete list of unidentified persons, many with photos and descriptions, can be viewed on the Riverside County Coroner’s website.
Anyone with information about Vicente’s death can contact CHP-Indio at (760) 772-5300. Callers can refer to coroner file number 97I3316 or CHP-Indio incident file number 0624971420 and can remain anonymous.