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Man who hit missionaries may not be in country legally

By Alex Cabrero | Posted - Nov. 10, 2011 at 11:13 p.m.



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DONNA, Texas -- Investigators are now saying the driver who hit and killed two LDS missionaries in Donna, Texas, is a Mexican National but they're not sure yet if he is in the United States legally.

The driver accused of causing the deadly crash, Jose Garza of Weslaco, Texas, says he was having headlight problems when the accident happened. He later turned himself in at the Progreso border crossing --roughly 10 miles away from where the crash happened. He's in jail on a $100,000 bond.

The three missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were riding their bikes on a narrow road in Donna, Texas, when a driver hit them head-on, killing two and sending Elder Zachary Harris of Huntsville, Ala., to the hospital.

Steven Trayner, the Mission president of the McAllen, Texas, mission, was in charge of the two Elders.

"You take it minute by minute, and it's been difficult at times, and there have been plenty of tears and moments when we just couldn't talk," he said.

Trayner says other missionaries can honor the two who died by continuing to dedicate themselves in their work, just as the three were doing before they got on their bikes.

Elder Harris, 19, who survived the crash, is recovering and spoke exclusively to KSL.

"We worked hard together. They're both very hard workers," he said of his companion, Elder Derek Walker, from Fairfield, Idaho, and Elder Trevor Strong from Taylorsville, Utah, who died in the crash.

"To me, Elder Strong and Elder Walker were very strong examples of being representatives of Christ and they taught me. I only knew them for about a week, but in that short week, they become my brothers," he said.

Elder Harris, who was released from the hospital, says he doesn't remember much about the crash. His injuries included cuts that required stitches, plus leg and knee injuries, but he is expected to fully recover.

His attitude is positive although he greatly misses the two who died. He told KSL he plans to stay and finish serving his mission.

President Steven Traynor of the McAllen, Texas mission said, "I would have loved to have had those two who passed away as my sons. They were just examples and just great young men in every aspect."

Friends say Strong was a fun, loving guy who was dedicated to his faith. He would have recently completed his mission but chose to extend it for three more weeks.

Strong's parents did not want to make a public statement but they did tell KSL they picked up Trevor's twin brother from the airport Wednesday night. He was serving a mission in Arizona.

Elder Walker's father, Jason Walker, says his four younger children looked up to their big brother.

"He was a tremendous individual, well liked, well loved, smiled a lot and just loved life," Jason Walker said.

Elder Walker had been serving in the McAllen, Texas mission for a little more than a year.

E-mail: acabrero@ksl.com

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Alex Cabrero

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