3 immigrants drown in canal near Casa Grande
by Heather Hoch - Mar. 6, 2009 07:34 PM
The Arizona Republic

Three of seven undocumented immigrants drowned in a canal near Casa Grande Friday morning after fleeing a Pinal County Sheriff's deputy.

According to a release from Pinal County Sheriff's Office, deputies rescued four people from the canal.

The release said at about 6 a.m., Deputy Russell Warren noticed a vehicle coming towards him on Interstate 8 with the headlights off in an area known for drug trafficking and human smuggling.
The driver of the vehicle turned the headlights on but proceeded to drive in the opposing lane of traffic and ran two stop signs while reaching speeds above 85 miles per hour, according to the release. The driver then exited off Trekell Road and allegedly tried to evade the deputy.

Warren lost sight of the vehicle due to the dust generated from the chase on the dirt road. According to the release, Warren found the vehicle near the canal, where he saw several individuals fleeing from the van.

The deputy heard yelling coming from the canal and noticed several people in the water who appeared to be unable to swim. The release said Warren retrieved one person who was underwater, and a second deputy threw the end of a pair of jumper cables into the canal to save another. The second deputy also helped two other people who were holding on to the side of the canal.

The Sheriff's Office said three people could not be saved due to water's speed, undercurrent and the proximity of the incident to the canal gate, according to the release. Those conditions also currently prevent dive teams from safely entering the water.

Information on victim identification or any arrests was not immediately available.

In a similar case last year, a human-smuggling suspect from Eloy was charged in connection with the deaths of four illegal immigrants who drowned in a canal while fleeing authorities.

Juan Moreno-Gonzalez, 26, a lawful permanent resident, was indicted in November charges including conspiracy and transporting illegal aliens resulting in death. A federal case is ongoing.

Two men and two women drowned Oct. 28 in the San Tan High Line Canal outside Gilbert. Authorities say Moreno-Gonzalez was driving a van containing at least 21 undocumented immigrants when Gila River police tried to stop the vehicle because it looked suspicious.