Mexican Man Pleads Guilty in Smuggling Crash Where 13 Died
EL CENTRO, Calif. (AP) — A Mexican man pleaded guilty Tuesday to coordinating a smuggling effort that left 13 people dead when their overloaded SUV was struck by a big-rig after crossing the border into California two years ago.
Jose Cruz Noguez, 49, of Mexicali, entered pleas in federal court to a charge of conspiracy to bring in undocumented migrants and three counts of bringing in undocumented migrants for financial gain, the US attorney’s office said in a statement. He faces at least 15 years in prison when he is sentenced in June.
Prosecutors said Cruz organized a smuggling run on March 2, 2021, in which dozens of people were crammed into two modified sport utility vehicles that were driven into the United States through a breach cut in the international border fence.
One SUV, a GMC Yukon carrying 19 people, caught fire for unknown reasons on a nearby interstate entering the US after everyone escaped the vehicle and all were taken into custody by the Border Patrol, authorities said.
The other vehicle, a Ford Expedition carrying 25 people, was driving through California’s agricultural Imperial Valley when it was broadsided by a tractor-trailer hauling two empty trailers at an intersection near Holtville, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) east of San Diego, authorities said. .
The crash killed 13 people, including the driver, and left the rest with injuries, many of them major. A 15-year-old girl was among the injured.
Cruz was taken into custody after another suspected smuggler was arrested at a California border station two weeks after the crash.
Froylan Cortez Avalos, 49, of Mexicali also was charged in the case but remains a fugitive.
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