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Stolen vehicles carry immigrants at high speed through South Texas, officers say
The Frio County Sheriff’s office continues to report a constant stream, part of the regional spike, of human smuggling cases that result in high-speed pursuits.
Sheriff’s deputies and officers of neighboring agencies have been involved in scores of similar cases in a mere seven-day period.
According to Patrol Lieutenant Josh Longoria, the county is situated in “a perfect corridor” for human smuggling as it is near a major interstate and several heavily traveled highways.
“Since January we are responding to at least three human smuggling cases a day,” Longoria said Monday evening. “We believe the uptick is due, in part to the coronavirus, and our proximity to major throughways.”
Many of the cases over the last week have come from tips received from other agencies regarding illegal immigrants being transported in pickup trucks and cars that are traveling towards Pearsall.
On Sunday, February 21, deputies were called to assist in the pursuit of a small sedan that was heading west along a county road and approaching Frio County near Derby. The driver used the entrance ramp to IH-35 heading north, topping speeds of 120 mph, according to a report on the case.
The driver was able to evade law enforcement and Medina County deputies took over at the county line.
The following day, deputies were provided information that three trucks were traveling along Trevino Road and would soon be approaching Beever Road.
“This area is known for human smuggling,” the report read.
As the drivers approached the intersection, the vehicles all turned in different directions in an attempt to evade deputies and Border Patrol agents who had come to assist.
Deputies lost sight of the white Dodge they were attempting to stop after the driver steered through a barbed-wire fence; the vehicle was later found at a ranch along FM 1582.
That evening, deputies recovered a stolen vehicle that had been involved in a different pursuit earlier that morning. The driver of the vehicle drove through a ranch along Highway 85 before abandoning the pickup.
Three days later, deputies found themselves involved in three separate cases that involved narcotics, human smuggling and a stolen vehicle.
While patrolling the interstate, deputies effected a traffic stop that ended in charges related to narcotics transport and human smuggling.
The Houston man, later identified as 33-year old Alejandro Hinojosa, was stopped near Milemarker 112 on IH-35 after he was found in violation of the traffic code.
During the roadside interview, police noted inconsistencies in Hinojosa’s story and reported that there were five males in the back seats of his SUV. Hinojosa and his passenger, later identified as 33-year old Michael Rodriguez of Humble, Texas, were arrested on state jail felony charges for possession of narcotics after a search of the vehicle revealed a quantity of methamphetamine.
Border Patrol agents took custody of the five men in the back seat.
Later that evening, a 2016 Dodge Ram 2500 was traveling along CR 4200, and reports had indicated the truck was carrying illegal immigrants. The pickup continued to head west on FM 1581 towards Pearsall. After leading law enforcement on a short high-speed pursuit, the driver drove through two fence lines before coming to a stop, at which time the occupants fled on foot.
The truck was bearing two license plates and had been reported stolen.
Locally, human smuggling has not only affected the community by destroying ranchers’ property; a Pearsall resident was arrested later that evening in connection with a stolen vehicle and human smuggling.
According to a report on the case, deputies effected a traffic stop after the driver of a Honda pickup truck failed to stay in his lane of traffic. The driver, identified as 30-year-old Nathan Valdez, stopped the vehicle near IH-35 Milemarker 104, at which time the occupants attempted to flee on foot. They were detained by Border Patrol agents shortly after their attempt to evade arrest. Valdez was transported to the Frio County Jail without further incident.
A high-speed chase the next day that originated in Zavala County around 2 a.m. led to the arrest of male suspect in a stolen vehicle.
Police say the man behind the wheel of a Chevrolet Traverse led Zavala County deputies on a pursuit along Highway 57. When the driver reached the FM 140 intersection, he was traveling at approximately 90 mph. The driver surrendered when he stopped the SUV at a gas station on the outskirts of Pearsall. He was arrested and transported by Zavala County deputies to the Zavala County Jail.
Six hours later, a tip was received regarding a Dodge pickup discovered in the brush along Highway 85 near the Atascosa County line. Deputies learned the truck had been reported by the San Antonio Police Department as stolen. Keys were found in the truck and the radio had been removed.
The final pursuit in the week-long spree resulted in the recovery of a Dodge Ram 3500.
A report on the case noted that the driver of the pickup was traveling at speeds of 80 mph, some 35 miles per hour over the posted speed limit along FM 1581, as he entered Pearsall city limits. The driver came to a stop after driving through a fence on a ranch near Highway 57. The driver and his passengers were able to evade law enforcement officials as they fled on foot into the brush.
Deputies later learned the truck was reported stolen from Sanger ISD.
“We are trying our best to keep these traffickers out of our county and damaging ranchers properties,” Longoria said. “Without the assistance of the border patrol, DPS and Dilley Police Department, the county would be overwhelmed with these types of cases.”
Longoria added on Tuesday that all of the vehicles used to transport undocumented immigrants in the recent cases in Frio County had been reported stolen.