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Monday, March 4, 2024
March 4, 2024

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Police search for suspect in fatal hit-and-run in Woodland

By , Columbian Local News Editor

A Kalama man was killed in a hit-and-run crash Thursday morning on Interstate 5 when his vehicle was sent off the road and into Horseshoe Lake in Woodland.

All lanes of southbound I-5 were closed for about two hours for the crash investigation. Detectives scoured the area around Milepost 21 for evidence and deployed a drone, according to Washington State Patrol Trooper Will Finn. The freeway reopened at about 8:35 a.m.

The crash, south of Horseshoe Lake Park, was reported at 6:28 a.m.

Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue, AMR and the State Patrol responded.

The driver of a red 2006 Toyota Corolla was taken to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver where he died from his injuries, Finn said. He was identified Thursday afternoon as 44-year-old Leonel D. Lopez Tello.

The suspect vehicle briefly stopped but then fled south on I-5. Detectives are looking for a dark-colored, two-door car — similar to a late-’90s or early-2000s Honda Civic — with aftermarket wheels and exhaust, and significant front-end damage, Finn said.

Both cars were traveling south on I-5 and had just passed Exit 21, Finn said, when the dark-colored car suddenly moved from the left lane to the middle lane, striking the Toyota.

Lopez Tello lost control of the Toyota, and it crossed the right lane and right shoulder. It then went down a 30-foot embankment and through a chain-link fence, crossing Northwest Lakeshore Drive, and struck the far-side guardrail, becoming airborne. It landed on the bank and appeared to roll into the lake, coming to rest on its roof mostly submerged, according to a State Patrol crash memo.

The driver of the dark-colored car initially stopped on the shoulder and reversed to where the Toyota went off the road. He got out and stood around for about five minutes, looking at the crashed car, before re-entering his car and leaving, Finn said. The man was wearing dark-colored pants and an orange construction-style sweatshirt.

First responders found the Toyota in the water. Local police jumped into the lake to try to right the vehicle and extricate the driver, Finn said, but were unsuccessful. Additional rescue crews were called, including divers. Lopez Tello was pulled from the car, and first responders began CPR before he was taken to the hospital.

Divers conducted another search of the car and shoreline for additional victims, but no one was found, Finn said.

The State Patrol is asking for the public’s help identifying the suspect vehicle and driver. Anyone with information or who witnessed the crash — which occurred between 6:15 and 6:30 a.m. — or may have dashcam footage should call the State Patrol.

Web Editor Amy Libby contributed to this report.