EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — A Mexican man has been arrested and charged in connection with a human smuggling incident that ended with a deadly crash Monday in El Paso’s Upper Valley.
Federal authorities, citing court documents, identified Jorge Soto-Ochoa, 34, of Mexico, as a “foot guide” in the smuggling scheme.
El Paso police on Tuesday identified the driver of the SUV as 19-year-old Axel Elias Ramirez of El Paso.
Ramirez allegedly had seven migrants in the vehicle when he struck a Border Patrol unit before crashing into an irrigation canal, police said.
One of the passengers died. Federal authorities only identified him as a Guatemalan man.
Ramirez and Soto Ochoa, as well as the other five passengers, were injured and taken to a hospital.
El Paso police identified the injured passengers as 25-year-old Jose Alberto Vasquez; 27-year-old Danny Escalante; 32-year-old Martin Mateo; 23-year-old Nelson Lopez; and 30-year-old Juan Molina. El Police initially identified Soto-Ochoa as a 24-year-old passenger.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations said Ramirez and Soto-Ochoa each face a charge of conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens for profit, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000, or both. Both men made their initial appearance in federal court on Wednesday and remained jailed without bond.
The crash happened about 5:30 a.m. Monday on Upper Valley Road and Via De Los Arboles street.
A police spokesman said Border Patrol agents were conducting an operation and had a vehicle stopped at Upper Valley and Artcraft Road when the speeding SUV hit one of the Border Patrol units and continued on Upper Valley. Border agents followed and found the SUV inside the canal.
“This horrific accident is yet another example of the dangers of illegally crossing the border, as well as the total disregard for safety and life by greedy, reckless human smugglers,” HSI Special Agent in Charge Francisco Burrola said in a statement. “HSI is committed to disrupting and dismantling these transnational criminal organizations in collaboration with our partners at the U.S. Border Patrol and El Paso Police Department because illicit smuggling networks not only jeopardize the lives of its victims but endanger public safety.”
HSI officials say thay are working to curb human smuggling in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, which is right across the Texas state line and near where Monday’s crash occurred.
A rollover crash in Santa Teresa killed two Mexican nationals and sent nine others to University Medical Center in El Paso in late July. Investigators said smugglers paid two Mexican brothers to drive migrants from El Paso to Albuquerque.