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Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Mexican man, 47, who 'smuggled dozens of people' into the US in SUV that crashed in California killing 13 is arrested at the border after fellow runner snitched on him

 The smuggler behind the SUV packed with migrants that crashed in California, killing 13, has been arrested at the US border. 

Jose Cruz Noguez of Mexicali, Mexico, was arrested while crossing into the United States at the Calexico Port of Entry and received two different smuggling related charges in federal court on Tuesday.

Cruz Noguez, 47, allegedly coordinated the March 2 operation that led to accident near Holtville which killed 13 Mexican and Guatemalan nationals, federal prosecutors said in a news release.

The Ford Expedition carrying the victims had slammed into a tractor trailer at the intersection of Norrish Road and state Route 115.

Cruz Noguez, a legal resident of the United States, was identified as the operation's mastermind when another suspected smuggler, who claimed to be his associate, snitched on him, prosecutors said.


The unnamed colleague was arrested on March 15 at the Campo Border Patrol Station for an unrelated smuggling incident. 

'The associate pointed the finger at Cruz, telling authorities he had worked for Cruz in the past, and had been recruited by Cruz to be the driver of the ill-fated vehicle from that tragic day,' prosecutors said in the release.

Cruz Noguez allegedly coordinated the March 2 operation that led to accident near Holtville which killed 13 Mexican and Guatemalan nationals

Cruz Noguez allegedly coordinated the March 2 operation that led to accident near Holtville which killed 13 Mexican and Guatemalan nationals 

Besides the SUV that wrecked, another had also been involved in the March 2 smuggling operation. Pictured: Officials respond to the scene where the SUV smashed into a truck

Besides the SUV that wrecked, another had also been involved in the March 2 smuggling operation. Pictured: Officials respond to the scene where the SUV smashed into a truck


Cruz Noguez had allegedly offered him $1,000 per passenger two weeks before the voyage but he declined, according to a criminal complaint. 

He also allegedly told the associate that he would oversee the smuggling event and would arrange for the vehicles that crossed to go to a Holtville stash house.  

The alleged associate then participated in a secretly recorded conversation with Cruz during which he allegedly confirmed his involvement in the March 2 operation.

During the call, Cruz Noguez allegedly confirmed that other associates of his cut the border fence and that he collected money for the event. 

'Further, Cruz Noguez stated there were 60 “Pollos” – his term for customers – in the two vehicles and the driver was going to make $28,000,' prosecutors said.

The scene of a collision between a sport utility vehicle  and a tractor-trailer truck is seen near Holtville, California on March 2

The scene of a collision between a sport utility vehicle  and a tractor-trailer truck is seen near Holtville, California on March 2

Cruz had allegedly offered his associate $1,000 per passenger two weeks before the voyage but he declined

Cruz had allegedly offered his associate $1,000 per passenger two weeks before the voyage but he declined

The alleged associate then participated in a secretly recorded conversation with Cruz during which he allegedly confirmed his involvement in the March 2 operation

The alleged associate then participated in a secretly recorded conversation with Cruz during which he allegedly confirmed his involvement in the March 2 operation

Besides the SUV that wrecked, another had also been involved in the March 2 smuggling operation and the two vehicles were seen on security video that morning driving through a 10-foot wide portion of border fence that had been removed.

Border Patrol Agents had received a report from the California Highway Patrol that more than a dozen people were seen running away from a burning GMC Yukon SUV and into the desert in Holtville around 5.56am.

The agents extinguished the GMC Yukon SUV fire around 6.10am and followed foot tracks into the desert and arrest 19 people found hiding in the surrounding brush, prosecutors said.

The Calexico Police Department requested Border Patrol agents to assist with the 'mass casualty' wreck in Holtville at 7.05am and agents responding to the crash identified one of the vehicles involved as the Ford Expedition. 

'A total of 25 individuals had been in the Ford Expedition at the time of the crash,' prosecutors said. 

The site of the crash is in southeastern California, about 10 miles east of El Centro and about 10 miles north of the Mexican border

The site of the crash is in southeastern California, about 10 miles east of El Centro and about 10 miles north of the Mexican border

Numerous people were ejected from the vehicle on impact, with injuries varying in severity from fractures to head traumas

Numerous people were ejected from the vehicle on impact, with injuries varying in severity from fractures to head traumas

Crucifixes and anti-Border Patrol flyers, left by an activist, are seen near the scene of the crash

Crucifixes and anti-Border Patrol flyers, left by an activist, are seen near the scene of the crash

Besides the 13 who died, several others were injured in the accident and prosecutors alleged that all but the driver and front passenger seats inside the SUV had been removed, 'presumably to fit that large number of people.'

“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 the release.

'We will find and prosecute smugglers who use these methods and cause such tragic and avoidable deaths.'

A spokesman for the California Highway Patrol said that the driver of the semi truck suffered moderate injuries and was also hospitalized. He is expected to survive.

Cruz's associate told authorities he had grown up in Mexicali and had illegally entered the United States six months ago when he started working for him.

The man also claimed Cruz forced him to harbor another illegal migrant at his home in El Centro, California.

Cruz faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on a charge of conspiracy to bring aliens to the United States outside a port of entry causing serious bodily injury and placing a life in jeopardy.

He also faces a charge of bringing in aliens without presentation for financial gain.

Cruz is scheduled to appear in a preliminary hearing on April 13 and will be arraignment on April 27. The court has appointed him a federal defender. 

Details surrounding what caused the crash were not immediately available, with the matter currently under investigation.  

Authorities examine mangled SUV after deadly accident
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However, for decades, there have been concerns about the high death toll in crashes along the California-Mexico border, the LA Times reported.

Many of those wrecks are said to have involved immigrants trying to cross into the US, with a significant number of crashes occurring during chases by American law enforcement. 

Of more than 500 pursuits conducted by US Border Patrol between 2015 and 2018 across California, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, one in three ended in a crash. 

There is no evidence to suggest the collision involved a chase. 

A spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection told DC Examiner journalist Anna Giaritelli that CBP personnel were not involved in the collision, she tweeted.

Dr. Shavonne Borchardt, of El Centro Regional, said injuries ranged from fractures to life-threatening head and chest injuries. 

'Our staff has done a tremendous job getting everything ready for these patients and being able to handle them and get them transferred out to the appropriate places as soon as possible, or if we can take care of them here, they’re being well taken care of as well,' Borchardt said.

Hospital: 14 People dead on the scene in California crash
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Senator Diane Feinstein, a Democrat, tweeted that she has been left 'heartbroken' after hearing the news of the fatal crash.

'My office is closely monitoring the situation as we learn more about this horrific crash. My thanks to the Imperial County Fire Department and other first responders for their swift response and the various medical centers in the area that treated injured passengers,' she wrote.

'My thoughts are with the families of all those involved.'

Fifteen first responders from Imperial County, five fire engines and a helicopter all responded to the initial call that morning.

Video posted on social media that purports to show the crash's aftermath depicts a number of police, ambulance and fire vehicles surrounding the wreck.

A jack-knifed truck hauling two trailers it is seen stationary in the middle of the road.

It's currently unclear what speeds the two vehicles were traveling at when they collided. The speed limit for large trucks on the 155 is 55 mph. 

At least two other fatal accidents have happened at the same location previously, according to UC Berkeley's Transportation Injury Mapping System. 

The site of the crash is in southeastern California, about 10 miles east of El Centro and about 10 miles north of the Mexican border.    

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