By Bethany Blankley (The Center Square)
Six people were killed Wednesday in a head-on collision resulting from a human smuggling event in a Texas border county.
Texas Department of Public Safety Lt. Chris Olivarez made the announcement on social media and posted pictures of the demolished cars, saying, “DPS is investigating a two-vehicle fatal crash on US 57 near Batesville.”
Highway 57 stretches roughly 98 miles from the border town of Eagle Pass, Texas, to Highway 35, which is a major human smuggling route from Laredo to San Antonio. It winds through rural ranch land, farmland and small towns with few stop signs and stop lights.
Smugglers often drive to and from San Antonio and Eagle Pass along what they believe are less traveled and rural routes 481, 277, and 83 to get to major highways like I-90 and I-35, law enforcement officials have explained. The goal of smugglers is bringing their “human cargo” to major cities, including Houston, which is the major human smuggling hub in Texas, law enforcement officials have told to The Center Square.
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On Wednesday morning, Zavala County Sheriff’s Office deputies engaged in the pursuit of a driver of a Honda passenger car from Houston who was suspected of human smuggling. Continuing to evade capture, “The driver passed an 18-wheeler in a no-passing zone,” Oliveraz said, and then drove head-on into a Chevy SUV. The collision caused the Chevy to burst into flames, killing the driver and passenger from Georgia.
“Five passengers, including the suspected smuggler of the Honda, were killed,” he said. “Troopers confirmed several of the deceased are from Honduras. Identities will be released once the next of kin is notified. This is still an ongoing investigation.”
He later said, “Jose Lerma, 67, and Isabel Lerma, 65, of Dalton, Georgia, WhitField County, were the occupants of the Chevy SUV,” who were positively identified. Their family has been notified.
NEW: 11/8, @TxDPS is investigating a two-vehicle fatal crash on US 57 near Batesville. The driver in a Honda passenger car from Houston suspected of human smuggling was evading from Zavala COSO when the driver passed an 18-wheeler in a no-passing zone. The driver drove head-on… pic.twitter.com/KdxZ7wmvkk
— Chris Olivarez (@LtChrisOlivarez) November 8, 2023
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It’s because of incidents like this and others that Gov. Greg Abbott says he directed the state legislature to increase penalties for human smuggling. In the third special legislative session, the legislature passed SB 4 with bipartisan support. Filed by state Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton, the bill increases penalties for human smugglers and operators of stash houses, including making human smuggling a third-degree felony, carrying a 10-year minimum prison sentence.
“By establishing harsher penalties for those engaged in human smuggling and stash house operations, SB 4 would be an important step in deterring crime along the Texas-Mexico border and protecting innocent lives,” Flores said in the bill analysis. Current penalties for the human smuggling “are insufficient, as they have not effectively deterred individuals from engaging in these crimes,” the analysis states.
The bill was sent to the governor’s desk on Nov. 2, which he is expected to sign soon.
Syndicated with permission from The Center Square.
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