Jose Cruz Noguez, 47, of Mexicali, Mexico, was arrested while crossing into the United States at the Calexico Port of Entry and received two different smuggling related charges in federal court on Tuesday
The smuggler behind the SUV packed with migrants that crashed in California, killing 13, has been arrested at the US border.
Jose Cruz Noguez of Mexicali, Mexico, was arrested while crossing into the United States at the Calexico Port of Entry and received two different smuggling related charges in federal court on Tuesday.
Cruz Noguez, 47, allegedly coordinated the March 2 operation that led to accident near Holtville which killed 13 Mexican and Guatemalan nationals, federal prosecutors said in a news release.
The Ford Expedition carrying the victims had slammed into a tractor trailer at the intersection of Norrish Road and state Route 115.
Cruz Noguez, a legal resident of the United States, was identified as the operation’s mastermind when another suspected smuggler, who claimed to be his associate, snitched on him, prosecutors said.
The unnamed colleague was arrested on March 15 at the Campo Border Patrol Station for an unrelated smuggling incident.
‘The associate pointed the finger at Cruz, telling authorities he had worked for Cruz in the past, and had been recruited by Cruz to be the driver of the ill-fated vehicle from that tragic day,’ prosecutors said in the release.
The alleged associate then participated in a secretly recorded conversation with Cruz during which he allegedly confirmed his involvement in the March 2 operation
Besides the SUV that wrecked, another had also been involved in the March 2 smuggling operation and the two vehicles were seen on security video that morning driving through a 10-foot wide portion of border fence that had been removed.
Border Patrol Agents had received a report from the California Highway Patrol that more than a dozen people were seen running away from a burning GMC Yukon SUV and into the desert in Holtville around 5.56am.
The agents extinguished the GMC Yukon SUV fire around 6.10am and followed foot tracks into the desert and arrest 19 people found hiding in the surrounding brush, prosecutors said.
The Calexico Police Department requested Border Patrol agents to assist with the ‘mass casualty’ wreck in Holtville at 7.05am and agents responding to the crash identified one of the vehicles involved as the Ford Expedition.
‘A total of 25 individuals had been in the Ford Expedition at the time of the crash,’ prosecutors said.
Crucifixes and anti-Border Patrol flyers, left by an activist, are seen near the scene of the crash
Besides the 13 who died, several others were injured in the accident and prosecutors alleged that all but the driver and front passenger seats inside the SUV had been removed, ‘presumably to fit that large number of people.’
“Cramming dozens of people into eight-passenger vehicles and driving recklessly to avoid detection shows an utter disregard for human life,’ said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman in the release.
‘We will find and prosecute smugglers who use these methods and cause such tragic and avoidable deaths.’
A spokesman for the California Highway Patrol said that the driver of the semi truck suffered moderate injuries and was also hospitalized. He is expected to survive.
Cruz’s associate told authorities he had grown up in Mexicali and had illegally entered the United States six months ago when he started working for him.
The man also claimed Cruz forced him to harbor another illegal migrant at his home in El Centro, California.
Cruz faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on a charge of conspiracy to bring aliens to the United States outside a port of entry causing serious bodily injury and placing a life in jeopardy.
He also faces a charge of bringing in aliens without presentation for financial gain.
Cruz is scheduled to appear in a preliminary hearing on April 13 and will be arraignment on April 27. The court has appointed him a federal defender.
Details surrounding what caused the crash were not immediately available, with the matter currently under investigation.