A man charged with smuggling after 13 people were killed in a California crash

Los Angeles (AP) — A Mexican man was charged with coordinating smuggling activities on Tuesday, killing 13 people when an overloaded SUV crashed into a heavy truck after crossing the border with California.

Mexicali’s José Cruz Noges, 47, was arrested Monday night when he traveled to the United States at Calexico’s port of entry. He appeared in federal court in El Centro on Tuesday, facing conspiracy and smuggling charges, including serious injuries and endangering lives, according to a statement from a US law firm.

According to a statement, he was appointed as a federal public defender and ordered to be detained.

Prosecutors say Cruz organized smuggling and 25 people were squeezed into the 1997 Ford Expedition and passed through a hole in the border fence on March 2.

According to officials, the vehicle was traveling in California’s Agricultural Imperial Valley when unfolded sideways by a tractor trailer towing two empty trailers at an intersection near Holtville.

The crash site was about 125 miles (200 kilometers) east of San Diego.

The 17 residents were Mexicans — 10 people were killed and 7 were injured, including the driver. Nine people were seriously injured, including two Guatemalans, officials said.

The youngest victim was a 15-year-old girl who was treated for a major injury.

According to the Border Guard, a surveillance video taken about 90 minutes before the accident showed that the expedition and Chevrolet Suburban were driving through an opening in the border wall about 30 miles (48 km) east of the accident site. Shown. The suburbs carried 19 people, and after entering the United States, ignited on a nearby interstate highway for unknown reasons. All escaped from the vehicle and were detained by the border guard. Border guards said they were not tracking either SUV.

Two weeks after the crash, Cruz was detained after another smuggling suspect was arrested at a California border station. The man said Cruz had provided him with $ 1,000 per passenger to drive a crashed sports utility vehicle, but he declined according to criminal accusations.

Smuggling suspects claimed to know Cruz a few years ago, illegally crossed the border six months ago, lived in El Centro, and started working for Cruz by driving immigrants from El Centro to Los Angeles. Did. Statement from a US law firm.

“According to Associates, Cruz oversees transport to hide private homes in the United States. Collects smuggling payments from family members or sponsors. Recruiting drivers. Law enforcement agencies exist. I will scout. “

According to criminal accusations, smuggling suspects called Cruz, secretly recorded by law enforcement, last Friday, during which Cruz was involved in a smuggling operation on March 2 and raised money. It was confirmed.

“In addition, Cruz said there were 60” polo “in the two vehicles (his term for the customer) and the driver intends to make $ 28,000,” the statement quoted the complaint.

“These smuggling networks seek maximum benefit by moving as many people as possible across national borders, without any consideration of security and well-being,” US federal prosecutor Randy Grossman said in a statement. Stated. “Cramming dozens of people into an eight-seater car and driving recklessly to avoid detection shows that we are completely ignoring human life. Use the method to find and prosecute smugglers who cause such tragic and avoidable deaths. “

Cruz did not submit a petition at the hearing on Tuesday. His arraignment is scheduled for April 27th. If convicted, he could face a federal prison for more than 20 years.