A U.S. resident has been charged in connection to the smuggling operation that led to 13 deaths after a semitruck slammed into an SUV packed with 25 people — many of them Mexican and Guatemalan nationals — earlier this month.
Jose Cruz Noguez, of Mexicali, Mexico, was arrested Monday night as he crossed into the U.S. from Mexico, according to an FBI announcement. Cruz, 47, is a legal permanent resident in the United States who has spent time in San Jose, California, officials said.
25 other people were injured in the crash, with several needing to be airlifted to hospitals. The SUV, driven by a 28-year-old resident of Mexico, entered the intersection directly before a big rig smashed into the side of the SUV. The driver and 12 other passengers packed into the SUV died.
Cruz has been charged with conspiracy to bring migrants to the U.S. causing serious bodily injury and bringing them in without presentation for financial gain, according to officials.
“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 a statement. “We will find and prosecute smugglers who use these methods and cause such tragic and avoidable deaths.”
‘Dark realities of our immigration struggle’:Victims of deadly Calif. crash should be focus of U.S. policy changes, leaders say
The crash shined a spotlight on immigration and border concerns. The deadly collision occurred Mach 2 in Southern California just 10 miles north of the border, where two vehicles entered the U.S. through a 10-foot hole in the fence, Customs and Border Protection said.
Another smuggler, who claimed to be an associate of Cruz, said he had been recruited to be the driver, though he had declined. The smuggler then talked in a “secretly recorded” call with Cruz, where he confirmed his involvement, said the complaint.
Cruz also said in the call that “his other associates cut the border fence; that the vehicles were fully loaded; and that he collected money for the event,” according to the complaint.
“Thirteen individuals lost their lives on March 2nd due to unscrupulous human smugglers,” said El Centro Sector Border Patrol Chief Patrol Agent Gregory K. Bovino. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office, Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Border Patrol will stop at nothing to find, arrest, and prosecute smuggling organizations and this case is evidence of that.”
Contributing: Grace Hauck, Colin Atagi, and Christal Hayes