Felony murder charge recommended in drowning death

If a death occurs during or soon after the commission of a felony, the accomplice can be charged with murder.
ARVIN, CA - The man the Kern County Sheriff's Department believes is responsible for the canal drowning death of a young Arvin man last month, has been deported.

Detectives recommended to the District Attorney's office Tuesday that a felony murder charge be filed against 27-year-old Francisco Vidal.

So far, no charges have been filed against Vidal.

Last month, 18-year-old Alejandro Pantoja disappeared. On January 28th, Vidal's car was found in a canal near Arvin. A few hours later, detectives found Pantoja's body a mile downstream.

The coroner's office ruled Pantoja died by accidental drowning, but detectives said the circumstances surrounding his death are enough to recommend a murder charge against the man he was last seen with the day he disappeared.

"There's a theory known as the Felony Murder Rule," said Kern County Sheriff's Department spokesman Ray Pruitt. "If two or more people are involved in the commission of a felony and one of the suspects is killed in the commission of that felony or while they're fleeing that felony, the participants in that felony can be charged with murder."

Detectives believe Pantoja and Vidal committed a burglary together. They fled in Vidal's blue car, but crashed in the canal. Vidal survived.

"We believe he is a suspect," said Pruitt. "We believe he was involved in this accident, this vehicle going into the canal. And, after the vehicle had gone into the canal Mr. Vidal fled the scene."

An intent to kill is not necessary for a felony murder charge, only that a death occurred during or soon after a felony. In this case, the burglary. Detectives found stolen items inside the car found in the canal and a stolen, loaded handgun on Pantoja's body.

The Sheriff's Department turned its investigation over to the District Attorney's Office which will decide whether to file charges. A felony murder charge is typically a first degree murder charge.

Vidal, however, is no longer in the United States.

He was arrested for drug possession and resisting arrest when detectives tried to question him about Pantoja's death. He was released from custody, but picked up by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and deported February 6th.

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