Mexican immigrant smuggler indicted in deaths
Filed Under: US | Posted: 08/28/2008 at 12:06PM
Comments | Region: Arizona | United States
The Mexican man who drove nine illegal immigrants to their death near Tucson, AZ earlier in August has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges related to the crash.
In a story that’s become much too familiar, Brian Guzman-Ochoa, 32, of Hermosillo, Mexico had entered the US illegally. He was driving an SUV crammed with 19 men and women when he lost control and rolled the vehicle. Turns out, he had been arrested at least three previous times on charges of transporting illegal immigrants and also has been apprehended numerous times by the Border Patrol for crossing the border illegally along with others. Survivors told investigators that he was smoking marijuana before getting behind the wheel of the sport utility vehicle.
The two survivors who identified Guzman-Ochoa were from El Salvador. They said Guzman-Ochoa and another were in the front seat of the Suburban. The guide with Guzman-Ochoa died in the accident.
Guzman-Ochoa represented himself as an immigrant who was being smuggled when interviewed by agents. He told investigators he was traveling with his son to Phoenix and was going to pay $1,800 to be smuggled. He claimed to be in the right passenger seat, holding the wheel at the request of the driver when the SUV went off the road.
Upon further questioning, he admitted to being the driver, saying the driver had asked to switch. He told agents that he didn’t know how to drive and that he didn’t remember what happened because he suffers from epileptic seizures. To further complicate his story, he told police at the accident scene that he was the driver and the occupants were his family members from Agua Prieta, Sonora.
All of these stories apparently fell apart since he was indicted this week. This time could be the last time he’s at the wheel of any vehicle. He is charged with one count of transportation of illegal aliens, three counts of bringing illegal aliens into the United States, and one count of re-entering after deportation. He faces a maximum sentence of death or life imprisonment.
Killed in the crash were Gabriel Ismael Tejada Vega, Jose Alvarez-Lopez, Denis Miguel Martinez Alfaro, Maria Elena Argueta Argueta, Jose Santos Rodriguez Serrano, Jose Angel Alfaro-Solano, Olvin Noe Hernandez-Chirino, Jesus Enrique Barrera-Morales, and Reina Isabel Cabrera Hernandez. The dead were reportedly from Guatemala and El Salvador as well as Mexico.
A survivor told investigators the story of his monthy-long flight from Central America. He said he left El Salvador on July 5 for Chiapas, Mexico. He spent two weeks in a smuggler’s house. A van then took him from Chiapas to Agua Prieta, Sonora, not far from Douglas, Arizona. There he spent another three days in a smuggler’s house. He walked with the group two days across the border and into the US.
On Aug. 7, in the predawn hours, the SUV picked him and the group up. In a car behind the SUV was Guzman-Ochoa and another man, who got into the Suburban. The trip ended in tragedy a few hours later.
Even if the immigrants had made it into the US, they still faced bleak conditions because of their legal status. They would have no hope for earning slightly more than the minimum wage.
But despite this reality, they still keep coming. Why? One reason is that rumors in their home countries about life in the US does not equal reality. Central Americans say the the journey to the US is the hardest part, that once they’re here things will work out for them. They base these assumptions on stories of others who have done well in the States, without realizing that the ones who did the best were those who came to the country legally. According to writer Rosa Martha Villarreal, whose parents immigrated to the U.S., “The myths overshadow the reality that it was our legality, not our mere presence that opened up the opportunity for upward mobility.”