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Hit-and-run death case moves toward trial

--- Police say suspect fled into brother's apartment

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published July 16, 2007, 2:37 p.m.)

The little girl riding her bike, still rigged with training wheels, came out from between two parked cars.

Then a car appeared. "She tried to stop. She either froze and couldn't hit the brakes, or maybe hit the accelerator instead, striking the little girl," Lake Geneva Police officer William Thornburgh testified Wednesday at a preliminary hearing for Teresa Varela-Merino.

Varela-Merino, 28, of 1016 Grant St., Lake Geneva, is accused of felony hit-and-run causing death May 28.

Thornburgh interviewed Varela-Merino after they found her inside her brother's apartment at a complex on the 1300 block of Elkhorn Road.

"As she exited the vehicle, several people were yelling at her. She felt scared so she went to her brother's residence," Thornburgh said.

She was not outside at the scene when police and rescue workers arrived, according to testimony from Lake Geneva Sgt. Jason Hall.

The girl, 6-year-old Lexlin Duran Ortiz, sustained serious head injuries and was pronounced dead later that night at Aurora Lakeland Medical Center in Elkhorn.

Defense attorney Chris Kuehn said Varela-Merino stopped as close to the scene of the accident as possible and a passenger stayed behind to tell police what happened.

"Your argument makes no sense," Judge Robert Kennedy said. He found enough evidence to continue the trial.

"She did stop her vehicle at the scene. That is true," Kennedy said. "She has to give her name and address ... Did she give her name, address and registration number of the vehicle she was driving? No.

"You remain at the scene. You give the information. You don't leave and hope someone else gives the information."

An arraignment hearing was set for Wednesday.

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