Luis Valbuena, an infielder who played for the Los Angeles Angels in 2018, and former MLB infielder Jose Castillo died Thursday night in a car crash in their native Venezuela, their winter league team has confirmed.
According to El Emergente, the two were traveling along with teammate Carlos Rivero in Valbuena’s car from Caracas — where their Venezuelan team, Cardinales de Lara, had just played Leones del Caracas — to Barquisimeto, where their team is based and where they were scheduled to play Friday. The Orange County Register reports that the car, which was being driven by another man, hit a boulder that apparently had been rolled onto the highway between Yaracuy and Barquisimeto in the latter half of the approximately 4½-hour drive.
Rivero, who played four games for the Red Sox in 2014 but spent most of his baseball career in the minors or overseas, and the driver survived the crash. Valbuena and Castillo were ejected from the vehicle.
“A preliminary report from the authorities at the site presumes that the rock was thrown on the road, a common modus operandi to perpetrate highway robberies,” Beisbol Play reports.
As told by Reuters in February, highway robberies have soared in Venezuela, which is in the fifth year of an economic crisis that’s “worse than the Great Depression,” according to the Associated Press. Eight people died in highway lootings in January alone, Reuters reports, and the ring road around Barquisimeto has been dubbed “the Guillotine” by truckers because of regular attacks.
The Angels and MLB both offered their condolences on Twitter.
Valbuena, 33, played 11 seasons in the majors with the Mariners, Indians, Cubs, Astros and Angels, who released him in August after he had played 213 games over two seasons in Anaheim. His best season came with the Astros in 2016, when he put up a .260/.357/.459 slash line and hit 13 home runs, though he was limited to 90 games with a hamstring injury. Valbuena also hit 25 homers for the Astros in 2015 and 22 for the Angels in 2017.
Castillo, 37, played five seasons for the Pirates, Giants and Astros between 2004 and 2008.