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A routine inspection by commercial vehicle enforcement troopers of the Department of Public Safety on Tuesday morning, October 25, resulted in the discovery of 85 undocumented immigrants traveling in the back of a dump truck.
Preliminary reports on the case indicate the DPS effected the traffic stop at the IH-35 rest area near Milemarker 59, between Artesia Wells and Cotulla, at around 9 a.m. Tuesday and an examination of the vehicle revealed its human cargo.
Speaking on behalf of the DPS Tuesday afternoon, Sgt. Erick Estrada said the troopers had been conducting a number of commercial vehicle inspections on Tuesday and that the dump truck had been selected at random for an examination.
There have been no reports of injuries from the scene; officers witnessing the extraction of the many young adults noted that the immigrants appeared to have been packed tightly into the truck’s steel cargo box. The immigrants have been identified as Guatemalan nationals, although interviews and individual identification continue this week.
While nearly a dozen of the immigrants who had been traveling in the dump truck tried to flee the scene on foot and evade capture, they were rounded up within minutes by the US Border Patrol, according to Sgt. Estrada.
“It appeared that the immigrants had been stacked into the cargo box, packed very tightly, and a few of those who were near the top succeeded in climbing out and trying to run,” the sergeant said. “Most of the others were packed so tightly that their movement was limited, and it took some time to get them out.”
Troopers involved in the case were working under Operation Lone Star at the time, a state-supported program that funds the salaries of law enforcement officers working overtime in border security. The DPS CVE and Highway Patrol troopers were assisted at the scene by deputies of the La Salle County Sheriff’s Office and agents of the US Border Patrol.
An adult male was taken into custody at the scene; the suspect’s identity had not been released as of presstime. The suspect may be charged with as many as 85 third-degree felony counts of human smuggling, which may be upgraded to second-degree felonies in the case of any smuggled travelers being identified as under the age of 18.
The DPS believes some of the travelers were minors.
“We know that the vehicle circumvented the US Border Patrol checkpoint on IH-35 near Encinal,” Sgt. Estrada said. “We believe the driver used a ranch road to avoid detection.”
The undocumented immigrants were turned over to the custody of the US Border Patrol. The sheriff’s office assisted with transporting the immigrants by bus to a holding facility for processing.
Investigations into the smuggling crime continue this week by the DPS. Officers of the DPS Criminal Investigation Division are scheduled to interview the suspect in the case.