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Migrants Said Urged Boat to Head to U.S.

July 11, 2006

MIAMI (AP) _ Cuban migrants crowded aboard a speedboat on a deadly attempt to reach Florida insisted on racing toward land and away from an approaching U.S. Coast Guard vessel, one of the migrants said Monday.

There were about 30 migrants squeezed onto the speed boat in rough, choppy waters and they pleaded with three men accused of smuggling them not to stop, Juliet Escandon Hernandez said.

``When they were behind us, the man on the boat said that we had to stop, because the Coast Guard were yelling that they were going to kill us. But we told them not to stop, to keep going, because freedom was right in front of us,″ said Escandon, who is five months pregnant. She spoke at a news conference with family in Miami.

Another passenger, identified by relatives as 24-year-old Anei Machado Gonzalez, died Saturday when the boat ignored orders to stop and attempted to ram a U.S. Coast Guard vessel, authorities said. The Coast Guard fired two shots into the vessel’s engine to disable it.

Escandon was taken to a hospital after the vessel was intercepted and later released. It was not immediately clear whether she would be allowed to stay in the United States, said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Ivan Ortiz.

Three men accused of smuggling appeared in federal court in Key West on Monday. Heinrich Castillo Diaz, Rolando Gonzalez Delgado and Yamil Gonzalez Rodriguez were charged with conspiring to encourage and induce aliens to come to, enter or reside in the United States.

``It was the Coast Guard’s fault. They crashed into our boat,″ Gonzalez Delgado said as he was being led into court, Miami television station WFOR reported.

The remaining migrants remain aboard a Coast Guard boat at sea, but cannot be repatriated to Cuba until attorneys can be found for the three suspects, U.S. Magistrate Judge Lurana Snow ruled Monday.

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