DALLAS – Federal prosecutors charged five people Tuesday in a scheme to smuggle immigrants illegally after an SUV driven by one of them crashed in Texas while fleeing Border Patrol agents, killing five passengers.
The crash happened Sunday after Border Patrol became suspicious of three vehicles travelling in a convoy between El Indio and Carrizo Springs, Texas, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the western district of Texas. When agents tried to make “immigration inspections,” two of the three vehicles — a 2007 Suburban and a 2008 Tahoe — led authorities on a high speed chase.
The Suburban, carrying 14 people and travelling more than 100 mph (161 kph), lost control and overturned on Texas Highway 85 as it was entering Big Wells, a town about 100 miles southwest of San Antonio. Most of the occupants were ejected. Four passengers died at the scene and another died en route to the hospital. The names of the victims have not been released.
The man driving that SUV, 20-year-old Jorge Luis Monsivais Jr., was among those charged, along with the driver of the vehicle that did not take off when agents approached, 55-year-old Marcial Gomez Santana. Two of the others charged are Santana’s children. The fifth person charged was a passenger in the convoy.
They are charged with transporting and conspiracy to transport and harbour “illegal aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and death.”
The driver of the other vehicle that tried to elude agents, a 17-year-old unidentified U.S. citizen, was detained and is in the custody of Dimmit County authorities. The teenager has not been charged by federal authorities.
Prosecutors said Tuesday that nearly two dozen people believed to be in the country illegally were involved in the smuggling scheme.
The incident comes amid heightened tensions over the treatment of immigrants at the southern U.S. border. The Trump administration has announced a “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal immigration that includes separation of children from their families in some cases. The policy has sparked outrage from Democrats and some Republicans.
Daryl Fields, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said in an email that four of those charged made their initial court appearances on Tuesday in Del Rio, Texas, and Monsivais is expected to have an initial appearance Wednesday morning. It was not immediately clear if they have defence attorneys.