‘The pieces just fell together’: Yakima fatal hit-and-run suspect charged months later

YAKIMA, Wash. — It’s been almost three months since 66-year-old Wendy Baker was killed in a hit-and-run while bicycling with friends in Yakima, but charges were just filed against the man investigators believe struck her with his truck.

Juan Carlos Vargas, 42, was charged with a hit and run fatality Friday, but court documents show his name first came up as a potential suspect within days of the incident that ended Baker’s life.

“We were moving as fast as reasonably possible,” Yakima County Prosecutor Joseph Brusic said. “The pieces just fell together and we believe that we’ve got a case that we can make an attempt to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in court.”

Brusic said it took a while to be able to make a charging decision because detectives at the county sheriff’s office had to gather the necessary evidence. He said it was also a particularly busy summer, which added more time.

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Baker was out bicycling with a group of friends on Sunday, June 12 when she was struck and killed by a pickup truck. A short time later, a witness reportedly told police Vargas had a truck matching the description of the suspect vehicle.

Using the Yakima Police Department’s Flock camera system — which recognizes license plates using artificial intelligence — investigators were able to track the vehicle’s progress into the city and locate nearby surveillance footage that appeared to show Vargas at the wheel.

According to court documents, Vargas dropped his truck off at an auto body repair shop on South Second Street to get the vehicle repaired on the day of the hit-and-run.

Five days later, police found the truck parked at a construction site in Yakima with damage to the right front of the vehicle and missing parts that matched those found at the crime scene.

A month into the investigation, police learned Vargas had booked a flight to Guadalajara, Mexico just hours after the incident occurred.

Soon after, a friend of the suspect reportedly told investigators he got a call from Vargas that day. Vargas allegedly told his friend he’d hit a woman on a bicycle and drove away.

According to court documents, the last piece of the puzzle came from a search warrant served on Vargas’s cell phone that showed the phone was in the area when the hit-and-run occurred.

A nationwide warrant has been issued for Vargas’s arrest, but due to the flight records mentioned in the court documents, investigators believe Vargas is no longer in the country.