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89-year-old killed in a hit-and-run; suspect found and released from jail

El Centro resident and former farmer dies after getting struck by car Monday night

EL CENTRO, Calif. (KYMA, KECY) - Joe Puga, an 89-year-old retired farmer was struck right outside his home on Lotus and Ross by a hit-and-run driver Monday evening around 7 p.m.

Puga was transported to the El Centro Regional Medical Center where he later died due to the significant injuries, according to the El Centro Police Department (ECPD).

A neighbor provided surveillance footage to the officers on scene.

The neighbor across the street who does not want to be identified, said he heard the crash and thought it was two cars. When he came out, he said he saw Puga lying in front of his house. Puga's neighbor described him as a good man and always handed out produce to his neighbors. The neighbor mentioned Puga was carrying a sack of onions the moment he got hit by the car and onions were scattered everywhere.

Sergeant John Seaman with ECPD said there's still a lot of information to uncover.

"At this time I don't know if drugs or alcohol was a factor, we are trying to figure out exactly what happened, where the pedestrian was coming from, where they exited the sidewalk from, and where they entered the street from, there is still a lot of investigation that needs to be conducted on this case," said Sgt. Seaman.

The suspect vehicle was described as a 2008-2013 grey colored Nissan Rogue.

On Tuesday at approximately 1:00 a.m., California Highway Patrol (CHP) informed ECPD they had located an abandoned grey-colored Nissan Rogue in a ditch in the rural part of the county that matched the description of the vehicle involved in the hit-and-run.

According to ECPD, they confirmed it was the same vehicle based on the damage and earlier obtained footage and photos.

The vehicle is still in custody at the El Centro Police Department as the investigation continues.

ECPD conducted a follow up on the vehicle identification number and later found the 25-year-old suspect that was driving the car and his female passenger.

The suspect was booked at the Imperial County Jail for a felony hit-and-run driving resulting in death or serious injury to another person.

According to the Imperial County Sheriff's office, the 25-year-old suspect was later released Tuesday morning on $25,000 bail.

The Imperial County Coroner's Office said the autopsy for Joe Puga has not been completed.

The El Centro Mayor Tómas Oliva says this incident is extremely tragic and shared his opinion about the suspect posting bail.

"Im bothered by it. That's my own personal viewpoint of it all because you just made a series of decisions that resulted in someone dying and someone brutally dying, and a family having to deal with the grief and the loss," said Mayor Oliva.

Though Mayor Oliva says he does understand the law.

"As an elected official though, I uphold the laws and I uphold what our rules currently are and so I'm assuming he was afforded every just right that any one else is afforded," says Mayor Oliva.

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Vanessa Gongora

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