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Prosecutor: Man who killed Grand Forks teens in crash was suicidal

An arrest warrant has been issued for 20-year-old Valentin Mendoza, the driver of the other car who survived the crash.

GRAND FORKS — There is a nationwide search for 20-year-old Valentin Mendoza to bring him to the Polk County Jail. He has ties to Grand Forks and Texas, and he is wanted in both of those states. Now he's wanted in Minnesota as well.

"I still haven't learned how to talk about him without crying," said Judy Danielson, referring to her grandson Ethan Carsen. "He's a very loving, sweet kid. And he was just a kid, just turned 17."

Ethan Carsen was killed on Highway 220 in East Grand Forks back in June 2021, along with his passenger, 16-year-old Damien Powell. Police say their SUV was hit head-on by a pickup.

After a four-month investigation, prosecutors say it appears the driver, 20-year-old Valentin Mendoza, caused the crash on purpose to take his own life. Court papers say just three minutes before the crash, Mendoza sent a video threatening suicide to his girlfriend. He was allegedly going 75 mph in a 45 mph zone.

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Ethan Carsen's grandparents, Dave and Judy Danielson.

"Every time you remember it was intentional by a person, it just starts the whole thing in your mind over again," said Ethan Carsen's grandfather Dave Danielson.

Mendoza is charged with two counts of vehicular homicide that could lead to a possible 10-year prison sentence. Family and friends of Ethan Carsen say that's not enough.

"In my mind, it was murder," Dave Danielson said.

However, a defense lawyer who WDAY News spoke with said that a murder charge would be tough to prosecute.

"It appears he was just trying to harm himself and kill himself," said Blake Hankey of Hankey Law Counseling & Attorneys At Law in Grand Forks. "I haven't seen anything to show he was trying to kill the other driver, or the people in the other vehicle, or have that intention."

Mendoza has been on the run since August when he bailed out of jail after being arrested for a probation violation. Mendoza - who also has strong ties to Texas - was not allowed to be in Minnesota until he completed his sentenced for robbing a Grand Forks gas station in 2019.

For Judy Danielson, family functions will never be the same without her grandson Ethan.

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"He was the one who would say grace at all of our functions," Judy Danielson said.

She also hopes the cops clamp the cuffs on Valentin Mendoza soon.

"His (Mendoza's) character is horrendous, and he needs to be put away," she said.

Ethan Danielson's mother says that their hearts are forever broken. But justice will help the family heal over time.

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Valentin Mendoza, 20 is wanted in North Dakota, Texas and Minnesota.

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