Truly sad. Pray for the family.
– Pastor Greg Young
By Merrill Hope
A 28-year old Texas teacher lost her life on Thanksgiving Day after being struck by a hit-and-run driver who, reportedly, was in the United States illegally and had a criminal record.
The victim, Amanda “Mandy” Ferguson Weyant, was in the crosswalk of an El Paso intersection when a 1996 red Chevrolet Cavalier ran a traffic light and crashed into her during the early morning hours of Thanksgiving Day, according to police. The driver of the vehicle fled.
Weyant, who taught sixth grade locally at Eastwood Heights Elementary, died on scene, said El Paso police. Later, officers later found the abandoned car but not the suspect. They asked the public for their help. Then, on Saturday, Sergeant Robert Gomez, El Paso Police Department spokesman, announced detectives arrested Joel Velazquez, 24, charging him with accident involving death. They booked the suspect into the El Paso County Detention Facility and and set his bail at $150,000.
KFOX reported Velazquez appeared to be in the U.S. illegally and was placed on an ICE detention hold related to his immigration status. Also, according to the local news outlet, Velazquez was out on bond from a 2017 assault charge at the time of the fatal hit-and-run. Online jail records showed Velazquez was charged with assault causing bodily injury last year.
Throughout the holiday weekend, the Texas border community mourned. Some created a makeshift flower memorial in the intersection where the teacher tragically perished. On Friday night, Weyant’s father Dan Ferguson led a candlelight vigil at the elementary school, according to KVIA. The grief-stricken dad said: “I have no words to express why Mandy has left at such an early age. I was happy to give her a hug the very first day she was born and the last night before she died I got to hug her and tell her I love her.”
Ferguson said his shattered family struggles to find some semblance of peace in their memories of their “bubbly” daughter and the joy she brought to so many people. He said they want justice for Mandy, noting they want the man responsible for his daughter’s death to be held accountable. Ferguson told KFOX the family learned Velazquez had a criminal past and was in the U.S. illegally.
“It doesn’t seem fair,” commented Ferguson. “This man, because of his careless actions, has destroyed a complete family.”
Ferguson also said El Paso police detectives contacted him on Saturday to advise Velazquez turned himself in two days after fleeing the crime scene.
“I saw where my daughter was hit and where her body was 50 feet from the point of contact. He didn’t event attempt to stop and render aid,” stated the devastated dad. “Everything was perfect in her life and to have it all taken senselessly destroyed this is something no parent should go through.”
Ysleta Independent School District officials confirmed they employed Weyant for five years. In a statement, they expressed “deep sadness and heavy hearts” for Weyant’s “untimely death,” extending their “deepest condolences” to her family. Ysleta ISD plans to have grief counselors on the Eastwood Heights campus Monday to “help students, faculty, and staff cope with the sad news” and deal with the tragedy.
On Facebook, the heartbroken elementary school posted a pictorial tribute to Weyant, writing, “Forever in our hearts.”
Funeral services for Weyant will be held Wednesday.