A Florida man on the run for the past three years for deadly drunk driving has been arrested in Spain with a fake Mexican passport.
Christopher Ponce was drunk when he drove against traffic on a Florida interstate on June 19, 2012 and slammed head-on into another car, killing 20-year-old William Angel and injuring two others. (Ponce, then 22, had already racked up a string of 10 previous traffic citations including reckless driving and a DUI.) Ponce was out on bail, awaiting trial for manslaughter, when he removed his ankle-monitoring bracelet, possibly while receiving an MRI for a broken ankle, and disappeared in 2013.
So it’s no wonder Wade Angel screamed when he got the call Wednesday morning that his son’s killer had finally been caught.
“My wife was getting ready to leave for work,” Wade told The Daily Beast from his Wesley Chapel, Florida, home. “She was in her car in the garage getting ready to back out, and I yelled so loud she heard me in her car in the garage and came running into the house thinking something was wrong.”
When he told her the news, she started crying.
Angel said police in Almería, Spain, noticed a man at a bus station acting “suspicious and weird” so they asked him for identification. Ponce allegedly gave them a forged Mexican passport and a bus pass with another person’s name on it, Angel said. (Spanish newspaper Ideal says the passport appears to have been purchased in Mexico, suggesting Ponce fled there before arriving in Spain.) Fingerprints revealed Ponce’s true identity and that he was listed in an Interpol fugitive database. Spanish authorities contacted the state attorney’s office in Florida who told the Angels about the arrest.
Mark Cox, a spokesperson for the state’s attorney in Tampa told The Daily Beast that U.S. Marshals are beginning extradition talks with Spain. Ponce could return as soon as next month or not until the end of the year, depending on if he fights extradition, he added.
“He had to have had help,” Angel said, “because Christopher didn’t have a job, he didn’t have any money, and it takes money” to escape.
After Ponce vanished, the Angels became fixated on finding their son’s killer.
Wade launched FindChrisPonce.com and spent his evenings searching for Ponce on social media. He pasted Ponce’s mugshot everywhere, even on billboards. Television host John Walsh even highlighted the case on his CNN series about fugitives.
But the campaign brought unwanted attention.
People emailed the family’s tip line with “fake reports, people saying ‘oh, he’s here, I talked to him, he said you’ll never catch him, blah blah blah,’” Angel said. “Come to find out it’s just some wacko that likes to call 911 all the time and report things.”
“The longer this goes on, the worse it is,” Angel wrote on his website.
So when the local state attorney’s office called Wade on Wednesday morning to announce that Ponce had been captured in Spain, the news brought him back to the night of his son’s death.
“It was almost like losing William again,” he said.
The Angels remember their son’s compassion. William was an active volunteer at a local hospital, helping children through the emotional process of surgery. His high school classmates called him “Big Brother” for his 6-foot-1 stature and his warmth.
“His smile would light up a room,” Wade wrote on his website. “He could cure you with one of his hugs.”
Wade said he and his wife originally wanted a light sentence for Ponce because William would have wanted forgiveness for him.
“When this first happened—I mean within 24 hours of the crash—my wife and I were thinking about Christopher. We were thinking about how to forgive… We were prepared to go to the judge and say, because we knew his long history by then, we were prepared to go to the judge and say if he agrees to in-patient rehab, we would have been OK with him getting a light sentence.
“This did not have to end this way, with Christopher doing 20 or 25 years,” he said.
Angel said he’s relieved that Ponce has been captured but it’s not over yet.
“I’m not taking the website or the Facebook page down just yet, because we have thousands of people that follow our stuff,” Wade said. “I’m gonna let them know how it’s going with court proceedings and when they sentence him. That’ll be my last post. I’ll tell everyone what his sentence is, and that’ll be my last post.”