New details are surfacing on the car crash that killed former Los Angeles Angels infielder Luis Valbuena and former Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jose Castillo late Thursday night in Venezuela.
According Maria Torres of the Los Angeles Times, Venezuelan authorities have arrested four suspects found with Valbuena’s and Castillo’s personal belongings following the crash. State governor Julio León Heredia says authorities believe the former MLB players were the intended victims of criminals in Venezuela who throw rocks onto roadways to disable cars or cause crashes and then rob the vehicles’ occupants.
Valbuena, Castillo and Carlos Rivero, who was reportedly driving the car and survived the crash, had just completed a winter league game. Cardenales de Lara team official Gustavo Andrade said the three players elected to travel privately because they had personal business to attend to.
“They had appointments of some sort at the United States Embassy,” Andrade said, “They departed by their own means after [Thursday’s] game.”
The players were traveling from Caracas to Barquisimeto, where the Cardenales are based, when the crash occurred.
“This is a very sad day for our sport as we mourn the deaths of Luis Valbuena and José Castillo,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement Friday. “It is clear by all the stories today that they loved baseball and made an impact on their teammates and the Clubs they represented. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to their families, friends and fans, particularly those in their native Venezuela.”
Current MLB players Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Gonzalez have expressed concerns about their safety and the safety of family members that remain in Venezuela. Several players have moved their families out of the country in fear of being targeted.
In 2011, then Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos was kidnapped by four alleged abductors in Venezuela as they sought financial gain. Ramos was found unharmed two days later, but authorities had to orchestrate a dangerous rescue that included exchanging gunfire with Ramos’ captors.
In February, the mother of Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Elias Diaz was kidnapped in the Venezuelan state of Zulia. She was safely rescued three days later.
The investigation into Thursday’s fatal crash is still ongoing. Whether they were targeted specifically or randomly, the early reports paint a disturbing picture of the circumstances.
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