Published: 09.25.2006

Convicted smuggler sentenced to 35 years in federal prison
By Kim Smith
A 23-year-old man from Honduras who killed six people while fleeing from law enforcement officials two years ago was sentenced to 35 years in federal prison Monday. A co-defendant received 6 1/2 years.

U.S. District Judge Raner Collins told Jimir Valle-Martinez he showed a “complete and utter disregard for life” and he found it “unconscionable” that Valle-Martinez returned to smuggling people in the weeks before authorities caught up with him.

Valle-Martinez escaped after the crash and was later arrested at a “stash house” for illegal entrants in Phoenix.

According to court testimony, Valle-Martinez was fleeing from law-enforcement authorities and traveling between 88 and 96 miles an hour when he lost control of the Ford F350 pickup truck he was driving on Oct. 16, 2004.

The truck skidded sideways, crashed over a median and vaulted into nine cars waiting at a stoplight near a Fort Huachuca gate.

Three of the 19 illegal immigrants crammed into the pickup truck died along with newlyweds James Lee, 75, and Emilia Guthrie Lee, 71, of Huachuca City. Another victim died after returning to Mexico.

At least 25 other people were hurt, including two who suffered brain injuries, one who lost an unborn baby and another who is paralyzed in three limbs. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Ferraro told jurors during last January’s trial that Valle-Martinez was doing everything he could to get to Arizona 83, mistakenly believing authorities would stop chasing him if he got that far.

The crash happened at Arizona 90 and Buffalo Soldier Trail, 20 miles shy of the highway.

Valle-Martinez and Jose Luis Zepeda-Cruz, 26, were convicted on 15 federal charges, including conspiracy to smuggle in and transport illegal aliens for profit. The jury also found they entered into the conspiracy for money, knowingly placed people's lives in jeopardy, caused serious bodily injury to a number of victims and caused the deaths.

Collins sentenced Zepeda-Cruz to 6 1/2 years on Monday as well.