Alleged smuggler crashes into berm with migrants in car

by: Julian Resendiz
Posted: Feb 27, 2024 / 01:24 PM CST
Updated: Feb 27, 2024 / 01:24 PM CST

Two indicted in smuggling attempt foiled by border agents, Tohono O’odham tribal police


EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A federal grand jury in Arizona has indicted two alleged smugglers involved in a crash with a car full of migrants fleeing tribal police and the Border Patrol.

Joseph Matthew Sanchez and Jesus Felix Fonseca face seven counts of conspiracy and transporting illegal aliens for profit while placing a life in jeopardy, the Feb. 21 indictment filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona alleges.

The charges stem from a Jan. 27 incident in which U.S. Border Patrol agents monitoring security cameras several miles south of Sells, Arizona, detected two passenger cars driving in tandem on a road near the border wall.

The agents observed several individuals come across the border and run toward a 2019 Nissan Sentra and a 2006 Chevrolet Impala.

Court documents show Border Patrol agents tried to stop the vehicles a few miles down the road, but the drivers floored the gas pedal and kept going. A pursuit ensued but was terminated for safety reasons; a helicopter tracked the fleeing vehicles to Tohono O’odham nation land where a tribal police officer attempted to stop them.

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Already traveling at high speeds, the vehicles began to swerve in and out of traffic until the Impala lost control and crashed into a berm, court records show. The Sentra abruptly stopped and a driver later identified as Sanchez was apprehended along with four Guatemalan nationals in the vehicle.

Records show two individuals in camouflage clothing exited the Impala after the crash and took off running before being caught by the Border Patrol. Agents pulled two others, including Juana Xiloj Martinez, from the trunk.

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In a statement to investigators, Xiloj said a smuggling organization in Mexico on Jan. 27 got her across the border along with seven other people and “guides” directed them to waiting vehicles in a dirt road near the desert.

Xiloj and a man were instructed to get in the trunk of a car. Later, Xiloj said she heard police sirens and felt the vehicle swerve repeatedly; she said she felt an impact and was thrown to the side of the trunk.

Pedro Martinez Perez, another migrant, said he was in the trunk with the woman. He told investigators he felt the car accelerate to a high rate of speed and felt the vehicle come to a violent stop as it crashed.

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Court records don’t give a detailed account of any injuries suffered by the migrants.
Xiloj, Martinez and four other Guatemalan nationals are being held as material witnesses in the case. Records show they gave video depositions Monday in U.S. District Court in Tucson, Arizona. Further hearings are pending.