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  4. One person dead after suspected smuggling vehicle crashes into canal in Santa Teresa, New Mexico

One person dead after suspected smuggling vehicle crashes into canal in Santa Teresa, New Mexico

Release Date
Wed, 10/12/2022

SANTA TERESA, N.M. - On August 15, 2022, at approximately 4:45 a.m., U.S. Border Patrol agents driving unmarked vehicles were conducting anti-smuggling operations in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, when they observed a Ford Escape and an Acura sedan sitting stationary at a green traffic light on Industrial Road. The vehicles turned left onto Pete V Domenici Highway. A few minutes later, the Border Patrol agents observed the same two vehicles parked next to each other in the parking lot of a FedEx warehouse and suspected the vehicles were engaged in smuggling activities. The agents parked at a separate nearby warehouse and radioed their location and the location of the two suspicious vehicles to other agents in the area. A Supervisory Border Patrol agent driving an unmarked vehicle entered the FedEx parking lot, obtained the license plate numbers of the two vehicles and requested records checks on the Acura’s New Mexico license plate.  El Paso Sector Communications informed the supervisory agent that the license plate was registered to a Honda. The Ford Escape had temporary paper license plates; both switching license plates and temporary paper plates are commonly used tactics by smugglers. The agents then observed both the Acura and Ford pass their location travelling westbound on Strauss Road followed by the supervisory agent. The supervisory agent passed the Acura and Ford because they were traveling slowly then observed in his rear-view mirror that both vehicles turned around and went east on Strauss Road. The suspect vehicles continued eastbound to the intersection of Pete V Domenici Highway and turned north.

Border Patrol agents in a single unmarked vehicle were traveling ahead of the Acura and the Ford on Pete V Domenici Highway and observed a Lincoln Sport Utility Vehicle driving northbound near the intersection of Airport Road. The agents noticed the Lincoln SUV appeared to be heavily loaded which led agents to believe the vehicle was also possibly involved in smuggling. They called another Border Patrol agent in a marked vehicle via radio to conduct a traffic stop on the Lincoln SUV. The agent, who was accompanied by two agent trainees in the marked vehicle, and one unmarked vehicle conducted a traffic stop on the Lincoln SUV on Pete V Domenici Highway, approximately one quarter mile west of the New Mexico/Texas state border. The traffic stop resulted in the arrest of seven undocumented migrants and two smugglers. While assisting on the stop, the agents in the unmarked vehicle observed the Acura and Ford pass by their location and began to follow the vehicles.

The Ford Escape and the Acura sedan came to a stop at a traffic light at the intersection of Artcraft-Ord Gary Road and Upper Valley Road in El Paso, Texas, at approximately 5:29 a.m. There are four eastbound traffic lanes at this intersection,. As the vehicles waited at the traffic light, the Acura was in the left lane, and the Ford was stopped in the middle lane, with agents in unmarked vehicles in front of, behind, and on its passenger side. There were no other vehicles in front of the unmarked Border Patrol vehicle located on the passenger side of the Ford Escape.

As the vehicles were stopped at the intersection, two agents from the unmarked vehicles positioned in front of and behind the Ford exited their vehicles in plain clothes with no visible law enforcement markings and approached the Ford to ascertain if the driver was smuggling undocumented migrants. The driver of the Ford Escape suddenly maneuvered the vehicle to the right and impacted the front bumper of the driver’s side of the unmarked Border Patrol vehicle that was on the Ford Escape’s passenger side. The Ford continued driving southbound on Upper Valley Road at a high rate of speed. The two agents returned to their vehicles to follow the Ford, however, the agents observed brake lights in the distance and then lost visual contact. The agent in the unmarked vehicle impacted by the Ford pulled to the side of the road, inspected the damage to the front of his vehicle and then continued southbound on Upper Valley Road. The other agents drove southbound on Upper Valley Road searching for the Ford Escape.

An agent observed tire tracks in the dirt shoulder of Upper Valley Road at approximately 5:31 a.m., roughly 1,175 feet south of the intersection of Artcraft-Ord Gary Road and Upper Valley Road. The tire marks continued east into a canal near the intersection of Via de Los Arboles and Upper Valley Road and indicated that the Ford crossed the northbound lane and continued into a canal. The agent exited his vehicle and observed the Ford in the canal half submerged under water but could not reach the vehicle due to the canal’s steep embankment. The agent immediately requested Emergency Medical Services and other agents to assist with the single vehicle crash.

EMS arrived on scene soon after and rescued injured occupants from the submerged Ford. A passenger, later identified as a citizen of Guatemala, had been ejected from the Ford Escape and was subsequently pronounced deceased at the scene by the El Paso County Justice of the Peace. The driver and six remaining passengers sustained injuries and were transported by EMS to various hospitals in El Paso.

This incident is being investigated by the El Paso Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations, and is under review by Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility. The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General was also notified.

Last Modified: Jan 04, 2024