Driver pleads guilty to killing 17-year-old field worker

A man who ran over and killed a 17-year-old girl working in a Lower Valley field on the Yakama reservation pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in U.S. District Court.

Joshua Sampson’s guilty plea comes after more than two years and five trial postponements, the Yakima Herald-Republic reported. Sampson’s initial plea was innocent, but he changed that during a status hearing last week.

Sampson is accused of driving onto a field and running over and killing Petrona Mendez Ruiz on June 1, 2019. The SUV Sampson was driving had to be lifted off her body. Ruiz came here from Guatemala with her father to work.

Yakima County Sheriff’s deputies and Yakama Tribal Police responded and Sampson was arrested at the scene. Deputies said Sampson reeked of alcohol. Sampson was tried in federal court because he is Native American and the incident occurred on the Yakama reservation.

He initially was charged in Yakama Tribal Court, but the court lacks the authority to prosecute felony crimes. He was charged in federal court six months after Ruiz’s death.

In federal court, involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of eight years in prison and a $250,000 fine.