Five people have been charged in connection with a migrant-smuggling scheme that resulted in a high-speed chase that killed five unauthorized migrants in Texas, prosecutors said on Tuesday.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas on Tuesday said those charged include Jorge Luis Monsivais Jr., 20, of Eagle Pass, Texas, the driver of the 2007 Suburban that crashed near the town of Big Wells on Sunday, killing five people.
Customs and Border Patrol has said an agent saw what appeared to be three vehicles involved in a smuggling operation on a rural highway Sunday morning.
One vehicle stopped and two others led authorities on chases, authorities said. The speed of the Suburban topped 100 mph before it careened off the road near the town of Big Wells, southwest of San Antonio and about 60 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, and rolled over, Dimmit County Sheriff Marion Boyd has said.
Twelve of the 13 migrants inside that vehicle were ejected. Four were pronounced dead at the scene and a fifth died on the way to a hospital. Seven remain hospitalized.
Four others in another vehicle, a 2013 Tahoe, were charged as conspirators in a smuggling scheme, prosecutors said: the driver, identified as Mexican citizen Marcial Gomez Santana, 55; his son, Rudy Gomez, 21, of Hockle, Texas; his daughter, Johana Gomez, 19, of Houston; and Mariela Reyna, 45, also of Mexico. Marcial Gomez stopped when pulled over by authorities.
All five were charged with transporting illegal aliens and conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and death, federal prosecutors said. If convicted they could face the death penalty.
Monsivais and the other four charged were in federal custody, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. It was not immediately clear if they had attorneys. No one answered a phone call to someone believed to be associated with Monsivais Tuesday afternoon.
The driver of another Tahoe, a 2008, was an unidentified 17-year-old who is in the custody of Dimmit County authorities, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The driver tried to evade law enforcement officers but eventually pulled over. Some people fled after the Tahoe stopped, and 10 suspected of being in the United States illegally were later taken into custody, prosecutors said.
Twenty-three undocumented migrants were involved in the scheme, all but two of whom are Mexican citizens, prosecutors said. The other two are citizens of Honduras. Six of those 23 people are being held on federal complaints as witnesses in the case, prosecutors said.
The deadly crash and federal smuggling charges come amid controversy over the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy, which results in children being separated from their parents when the parents enter the United States illegally.