Driver accused of killing Grand Forks teens in crash charged with murder

Prosecutors say 20-year-old Valentin Mendoza was trying to kill himself when he intentionally slammed head-on into an oncoming SUV with two teens in it.

17-year-old Ethan Carsen and 16-year-old Damien Powell.
Submitted photo
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EAST GRAND FORKS — A new nine-page criminal complaint charges 20-year-old Valentin Mendoza with two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of third-degree murder.

He was originally charged with vehicular homicide.

The Minnesota State Patrol says in June he killed 17-year-old Ethan Carsen and 16-year-old Damien Powell in a head-on crash in East Grand Forks.

Police say he was going 75 mph in a 45 mph zone, and intentionally slammed into the car the teens were in. Mendoza sent a video to his girlfriend right before the crash saying he was going to take his life.

Mendoza was hospitalized for a short time.


Longtime defense attorney Blake Hankey said murder charges in car crashes are very rare.

In this case, Hankey said the facts laid out in court documents barely changed from the vehicular homicide charge to the murder charges, so it's not totally clear why the charges were upgraded.

"The prosecutor has some information we don't know, or else they are trying to infer intent such as if I am swerving my vehicle into oncoming traffic to kill myself, I am also intending on killing the occupants of the other vehicle," Hankey said.

Mendoza faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted of the second degree murder charge and 25 years on 3rd degree murder.

The original vehicular homicide charge carried a maximum 10-year sentence.

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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