Grand Forks man pleads guilty to two counts of third degree murder in 2021 crash deaths
Previously pleading not guilty on all six counts in May 2022, he changes his plea to guilty on two counts in an Oct. 5 hearing. The sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 14.
EAST GRAND FORKS – A Grand Forks man pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree murder for the deaths of two teenagers in a head-on crash that occurred last year.
Valentin Mendoza IV, 21, pleaded guilty to two counts of murder in the third degree -perpetrating eminently dangerous act and evincing depraved mind. He used the Norgaard plea, which is used when the defendant has no recollection of the event.
Mendoza maintained not guilty pleas for the other four charges: two counts of second degree murder-with intent (not premediated), and two counts of criminal vehicular homicide - operating a motor vehicle in a grossly negligent manner.
If the plea agreement is accepted by the court, Mendoza will be sentenced to 180 months for one charge and 150 months for the other. He will serve the sentences consecutively for a total of 330 months, or 27.5 years.
According to an affidavit in the case, around 3:08 p.m. on June 17, 2021, the East Grand Forks Police Department was dispatched to a two-vehicle head-on collision. The crash occurred on State Highway 220, about a mile north of Polk County Road 19 in Polk County, Minnesota.
Mendoza was located in a red 2004 Ford Ranger pickup with severe damage on the front driver’s side; the vehicle was tipped over onto the passenger’s side. EGFPD noted the speedometer was locked at 75 miles per hour and the posted speed limit for that location is 45 miles per hour. Mendoza was transported to Altru Hospital in Grand Forks.
The other vehicle was a white 2007 GMC Envoy, which also had severe damage to the front driver’s side. The speedometer was locked at 65 miles per hour. Two male juveniles were identified; both were unresponsive and severely injured, according to the affidavit. The two boys were removed from the vehicle and transported to Altru Hospital in Grand Forks.
At the hospital, the Minnesota State Police spoke to Mendoza’s mother, who said Mendoza was bipolar and had a history of making “suicidal comments.” According to the affidavit, Mendoza’s mother received a call from his girlfriend that day, stating Mendoza sent her a Snapchat video at 3:05 p.m. In the video, Mendoza was driving and said he was going to take his own life.
After analyzing the scene of the collision, MSP Trooper Adam Rochlin determined the Envoy had been traveling southbound on Highway 220 and the pickup was traveling northbound at the time of the crash. The roadway was noted as straight and flat, marked with a yellow center line, dry and clear of defects or damage. “There were no tire or brake marks near the point of impact of the collision,” the affidavit says. The pickup crossed the center line and struck the Envoy head-on.
On June 23, 2021, one of the juveniles died from his injuries after being removed from life support. On June 29, 2021, the other juvenile died from his injuries.
Mendoza’s sentencing is scheduled to take place at 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 14.