DPS

Two people died in separate crashes on Interstate 19 last week, including a priest from South Tucson.

The death of Father Raul Alberto Valencia Garcia, 60, was tied to two crashes Friday morning that snarled traffic on southbound I-19 south of Sahuarita Road. He had been pastor at St. Monica Parish in Tucson since 2011, and entered the priesthood in 2003, after a career as a dentist.

Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves said a rollover crash involving a semi-truck occurred at 6:30 a.m. south of Sahuarita Road and ended up blocking both lanes. The driver wasn’t injured.

At 8:15 a.m. there was a two-vehicle crash between Sahuarita Road and Pima Mine Road, Graves said.

According to a DPS spokesman, a motorist told troopers he was stopped due to the back-up caused by the first crash when he felt his vehicle shake. Unhurt, he said he looked in his rear-view mirror and saw a vehicle traveling into the median. The second vehicle, which came to rest in the median, sustained major damage and the driver, later identified as Valencia, died at the scene.

Troopers saw no signs of braking prior to the collision, the DPS spokesman said.

The Arizona Department of Transportation will close southbound I-19 for several hours starting late Saturday to remove the semi.

Earlier in the week, a Nogales man died after crashing into a tree on I-19 in Tubac.

Alex A. Zuniga, 59, was alone in his vehicle and traveling north at the time of the crash, which happened shortly after 6 a.m. Wednesday at kilometer 39, a spokesman with the Arizona Department of Public Safety said.

“The vehicle, for an unknown reason, ran off the road left, drove in the median for approximately 1,542 feet, and collided with a tree,” the DPS spokesman said, adding, “The driver was not wearing his seat belt.”

Zuniga was well known in the community as the former manager of Adair’s Carroon Mortuary in Nogales.

His death was the first roadway fatality reported on I-19 in Santa Cruz County in 2020. Four fatal crashes were reported on the local interstate in 2019.

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