Feds Charge Alleged Human Smuggler with Deaths of 13 Migrants in California Vehicle Crash

Investigators look over the scene of a crash between an SUV and a semi-truck full of gravel near Holtville, California on March 2, 2021. - At least 13 people were killed in southern California on Tuesday when a vehicle packed with passengers including minors collided with a large truck close …
Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Federal prosecutors in California filed charges against an alleged human smuggler they say is responsible for the deaths of 13 migrants. The 13 Mexican and Guatemalan migrants died in a crash after the driver crossed the SUV illegally into the United States through a breached border wall barrier.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California filed charges related to Conspiracy to Bring Aliens to the United States Outside a Port of Entry Causing Serious Bodily Injury/Placing a Life in Jeopardy against 47-year-old Jose Cruz Noguez, a Mexican national. He is also charged with Bringing in Aliens Without Presentation for Financial Gain.

Officials say Cruz is a Mexican national with Legal Permanent Resident status. Law enforcement officials arrested him as he attempted to cross from the United States into Mexico on March 29. The court ordered Cruz be held over for a detention hearing on April 5.

Prosecutors say a suspected smuggler identified Cruz as an organizer of the smuggling attempt that resulted in the deaths of 13 migrants on March 2. The migrants died when the driver allegedly ran a stop sign while driving an SUV loaded with 25 people near Holtville, California, Breitbart Texas reported. The SUV pulled in front of a tractor-trailer that could not stop and broadsided the overloaded SUV.

In a secretly recorded conversation between Cruz and an associate, Cruz allegedly confirmed his role in the March 2 crash. He reportedly confirmed his associates cut the border wall fencing and that the two vehicles that passed through the border breach were “fully loaded.” He reportedly said he collected money for the smuggling attempt and that the driver would be paid $28,000 for bringing in the 60 “Pollos” (Spanish for chickens) into the United States.

Twelve people, including the driver, died at the scene of the crash. A 13th migrant died on the way to the hospital, prosecutors stated.

Cruz’s alleged co-conspirator said he began working for the reported human smuggler six months earlier after he illegally entered the U.S. from Mexico. He described Cruz as a “coordinator” and that Cruz paid him to drive migrants who had illegally crossed the border from El Centro, California to Los Angeles, the DOJ statement revealed. He said he also worked as a scout for Cruz as people were being crossed illegally into the U.S. near El Centro.

Cruz reportedly operated stash houses and collected smuggling payments from family members. He also is said to have recruited drivers and other scouts to detect the presence of law enforcement during smuggling operations.

Federal officials reported:

At approximately 5:56 a.m., Border Patrol Agents from the El Centro Border Patrol Station received a report from the California Highway Patrol of more than a dozen individuals running away from a burning GMC Yukon SUV and into the desert in Holtville, California. Border Patrol Agents were asked to respond to this suspected human smuggling event. At approximately 6:10 a.m., Border Patrol Agents responded to the area and extinguished the fire. Border Patrol Agents also followed foot tracks into the desert and apprehended 19 individuals hiding in the surrounding brush.

Separately, at approximately 6:05 a.m., a Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS) operator at the Calexico Border Patrol Station spotted multiple vehicles and approximately 20 individuals gathered in a remote area just south of the United States/Mexico border. He also noticed that the border fence in the area had been breached and an approximately 10-foot section of it had been removed and was laying on the ground in Mexico. Border Patrol Agents then reviewed video footage from the area and discovered that two vehicles had crossed through the fence at approximately 5:23 a.m.: the GMC Yukon SUV and a Ford Expedition.

At 7:05 a.m., Border Patrol Agents at the Calexico Border Patrol Station received a request from the Calexico Police Department to assist with a mass-casualty vehicle crash in Holtville, California. Border Patrol Agents responding to the crash identified one of the vehicles involved as the Ford Expedition that recently had breached the border fence. A total of 25 individuals had been in the Ford Expedition at the time of the crash. Subsequent inspection of the Ford Expedition revealed that all but the driver and front passenger seats had been removed, presumably to fit that large number of people.

Despite the best efforts of law enforcement and medical personnel, 12 individuals – including the suspected driver – died at the scene of the crash. Another individual died on the way to the hospital. The surviving 12 individuals were transported to various hospitals far and wide, including in San Diego.  Many of the survivors were diagnosed with serious injuries.

Statements from federal law enforcement officials:

“These smuggling networks seek maximum profit by moving as many people as possible across the border with zero regard for their safety and well-being,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “Cramming dozens of people into eight-passenger vehicles and driving recklessly to avoid detection shows an utter disregard for human life. We will find and prosecute smugglers who use these methods and cause such tragic and avoidable deaths.” Grossman commended Assistant U. S. Attorneys Timothy Coughlin, Victor White, Shauna Prewitt, Patrick Swan and Blair Perez and agents from Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Border Patrol, El Centro Sector Intelligence Unit, for their excellent work on this case.

“Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) remains steadfast in our commitment to pursue members of human smuggling networks such as the network that caused the tragic deaths in the March 2 smuggling incident,” said Cardell T. Morant, special agent in charge for HSI San Diego. “Our investigative efforts have led to the arrest of an individual who allegedly put those lives in danger, and this brings us another step closer to providing closure for the families. We will continue to work collaboratively with our law enforcement partners to bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice.” HSI’s tip line in the Calexico area is (760) 335-5343.

“Thirteen individuals lost their lives on March 2nd due to unscrupulous human smugglers,” said El Centro Sector Border Patrol Chief Patrol Agent Gregory K. Bovino. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office, Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Border Patrol will stop at nothing to find, arrest, and prosecute smuggling organizations and this case is evidence of that.”

If convicted, Cruz faces up to 20 years in federal prison for the Conspiracy to Bring Aliens to the United States Outside a Port of Entry Causing Serious Bodily Injury/Placing a Life in Jeopardy charge. He also faces between three and ten years in prison if convicted for Bringing in Aliens Without Presentation for Financial Gain.

Cruz is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on April 13 and arraignment on April 27.

A copy of the criminal complaint remains restricted in online federal court records, Breitbart Texas learned.

Bob Price serves as associate editor and senior news contributor for the Breitbart Texas-Border team. He is an original member of the Breitbart Texas team. Price is a regular panelist on Fox 26 Houston’s What’s Your Point? Sunday-morning talk show. Follow him on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX and Facebook.

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