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Smuggled immigrants died
after high-speed pursuit
An 18-year-old Laredo man has been taken into custody on a rake of felony manslaughter and smuggling charges after being held responsible for leading officers on a high-speed pursuit last week through La Salle County and crashing a vehicle carrying undocumented immigrants.
Emergency responders were dispatched to a wreck site beside IH-35 approximately two miles north of Cotulla shortly before 3 p.m. Monday, March 22, and arrived to find that a 2005 Jeep sport utility vehicle had crashed and that some of its occupants had been flung from the vehicle.
The Texas Department of Public Safety Highway Patrol office in Laredo confirmed this week that the vehicle had been the subject of a high-speed pursuit along the interstate and that the driver had attempted to evade arrest.
Engaged in the northbound pursuit were Highway Patrol troopers, La Salle County sheriff’s deputies and county constables. When the Jeep approached Cotulla, a DPS officer succeeded in deploying tire-deflating spikes in the vehicle’s path, causing the Jeep to slow.
A report on the case from the DPS indicates that the Jeep driver did not stop his vehicle when his tires were deflated but traveled another eight miles before losing control of his steering.
The Jeep veered off the interstate and flipped a number of times before coming to rest upside-down beside the highway access road, according to investigators, and three occupants were ejected during the rollover.
Emergency responders have confirmed that two of the Jeep passengers who had been ejected from the vehicle were killed upon impact. One of the dead has been identified as 48-year-old Armando Martinez Zarazua. The other was listed as an unidentified Hispanic male. Both were pronounced dead at the scene. The driver and three of his passengers were transported by ambulance from the scene.
The driver has been identified as Jonathan Barajas and is now being held responsible for three deaths.
Charges against the teen driver were filed in the days following the crash, and Barajas was arrested at 7:10 p.m. Friday, March 26. He has been charged with three counts of first-degree smuggling of persons causing serious bodily injury or death, three counts of second-degree felony manslaughter, second-degree felony smuggling of persons causing serious bodily injury or death, three counts of second-degree felony evading arrest or detention causing death, and third-degree felony evading arrest or detention causing serious bodily injury.
The DPS has indicated that it is continuing its investigation of the fatal crash. Barajas remained in custody at the La Salle County Jail this week in lieu of bond.
The La Salle County Sheriff’s Office reiterated its caution last week that those who have attempted to smuggle undocumented immigrants along the interstate from the US-Mexico border have placed their passengers’ and other travelers’ lives at serious risk on several recent occasions.
La Salle County Chief Deputy Armando Romo noted in an interview days before last week’s crash that officers across South Texas have reported what they are describing as an alarming spike in the frequency of incidents involving smugglers transporting large numbers of undocumented immigrants in hazardous conditions or unsafely, then speeding from deputies and troopers or US Border Patrol agents in their attempts to avoid capture.
“The effort by law enforcement to intervene has become increasingly dangerous, as the drivers in these smuggling attempts have no regard for the safety of their victims, the motoring public or the law enforcement official attempting to stop them,” the chief deputy said. “High-speed pursuits often ensue and reach dangerous speeds.”