Officers uncover creative human smuggling trick

Firefighters and law enforcement personnel work to free 16 illegal aliens from the top of a fake car carrier after a stop was made in Live Oak County on Jan. 24.

GEORGE WEST – Human smugglers recently used a new trick to try and sneak past law enforcement, but officers discovered their deception and foiled their plans.

Late on the evening of Jan. 23, 16 illegal aliens were apprehended, and two Texas men were arrested in connection with the smuggling attempt.

The undocumented foreign citizens were stuffed in a small but wide space atop a fake automobile hauler when the vehicle was stopped near Oakville. Two of those who were hidden inside were a 5-year-old child and a child about 10 years old.

“The pursuit started on Highway 59 about 15 miles west of George West,” said Live Oak County Sheriff Larry Busby. “Border Patrol alerted us of a possible vehicle carrying the illegals and also identified a known scout vehicle.

The Texas Department of Public Safety initially received the message and shared it with other law enforcement agencies. DPS troopers were involved in making the stop, along with the sheriff’s office and George West Police Department. The George West and Three Rivers fire departments also assisted in freeing those who were crammed inside the truck.

Border Patrol notified law enforcement that the suspected smugglers had entered the state at Laredo and had passed through Freer on their way east.

“A deputy pulled over the scout vehicle, and the driver claimed he didn’t know anything about the smuggling,” Busby said, adding that the truck the man was driving was well-known to law enforcement.

“A deputy pursued the truck (containing the illegal aliens) and a DPS trooper also followed, and stopped the truck after observing a traffic violation,” Busby said.

The pickup used as a scout vehicle was identified as a blue 2008 Ford F-250. The truck used in the smuggling operation was a 2012 Freighliner with a false top.

“Car carriers have a hydraulic system that allows the cars to be placed on the truck, but this truck didn’t have functioning hydraulics — it was fake,” Busby said.

It was Live Oak County Deputy Joe Guerra who initially spotted the vehicle 15 miles from George West.

“What concerned us most was there were two little kids crammed up in that truck, plus it was a different type of concealment than we’d seen before.”

The area where the illegal aliens were confined was bolted from the inside.

“If they had passed out, they would have had to be cut out, and by then, they would have suffocated,” Busby said.

David Garcia, 24, of Laredo and Federico Castanon, 20, of Laredo, were both arrested on human smuggling charges, which were enhanced by the fact that two of the people they smuggled were under 18. They were booked into the Live Oak County Jail.

Jeff Osborne is the editor of The Progress. He can be reached at 361-786-3022 or theprogress@mysoutex.com.