One of Crash Victims Admits to being Illegal Immigrant Smuggler
SAN DIEGO (AP) _ A survivor of a pickup truck wreck that killed seven of the 25 illegal immigrants aboard has admitted helping to smuggle the men into the country, officials said.
Fernando Covarrubias Varela, 19, of Mexico, told investigators he was one of two men hired by a Tijuana smuggler known only as El Oso, or the Bear, to take the human cargo from Tecate, Mexico, to Los Angeles.
The trip ended last Saturday morning when the driver of the overloaded truck began speeding to avoid border patrol agents. The truck flipped over in a drainage ditch along a winding road outside Temecula, 60 miles northeast of San Diego. All 18 men who survived were injured.
Covarrubias was to be paid $200 for helping to transport the group, Ana Cobian, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said Thursday. A second smuggler was also riding in the pickup, but officials would not identify him.
San Diego Border Patrol Chief Johnny Williams had vowed to make an example of the smugglers, saying they had no regard for human life and were preying on their countrymen ``like leeches.″
Williams said the smugglers are now charging between $500 to $700 _ double what they did two years ago _ to smuggle people over the mountains.
Covarrubias, who was riding in the back of the pickup, was hospitalized for three days with facial injuries. He was arraigned Thursday on one count of transporting illegal migrants. He was being held in San Diego pending a detainment hearing next week.
Also Thursday, the bodies of six of the immigrants who died in the crash were flown home. Of the seven survivors who remain hospitalized, one is paralyzed from the neck down and another is being treated for severe brain injuries.
The mountains outside Temecula have become a popular route for smugglers because several roads, including the one where Saturday’s accident happened, bypass an immigration checkpoint on Interstate 15 between Los Angeles and the U.S.-Mexico border.
On April 1, another truck containing illegal immigrants was chased by authorities after it tried to drive through the checkpoint. The chase ended in a Los Angeles suburb, where two sheriff’s deputies were videotaped beating two of the passengers.