Alleged ‘coyote' involved in two deaths in desert surrenders to U.S. authorities

July 22, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

A Mexican national was arraigned in federal court Thursday in El Centro after turning himself over to U.S. authorities as a suspect in connection with a smuggling incident in which two immigrants died.

Leopoldo Perez Martinez has been charged with immigrant smuggling, and other charges could be added later, according to U.S. Border Patrol officials.

The 48-year-old Perez turned himself over to federal authorities Tuesday at the downtown Calexico Port of Entry.

He is alleged to be the second of two men who served as "coyotes," or guides, for a group of immigrants who crossed the border illegally July 10.

The first man, Martin Osuna Hernandez, 32, also a Mexican national, was arrested July 10 and was arraigned July 13 in San Diego.


He also was charged with immigrant smuggling but could face stiffer charges later.

According to Border Patrol Agent Manuel Figueroa, a group of 16 immigrants crossed illegally into the United States about 13 miles west of Calexico on July 10.

As temperatures exceeded 100 degrees, two members of the group became ill.

The two, a man and woman, were reportedly left behind as the group continued to make its way through the desert. Another man, thought to be the brother of the woman, stayed behind to get help.

The two perished before they were found by Border Patrol agents tracking footprints about 2 p.m.

Agents later found the brother who had gone for help and he identified the two who had died.

It was about 5 p.m. when the California Highway Patrol stopped a van driven by Osuna. There were 11 people in the van, all thought to be undocumented immigrants.

The group was turned over to the Border Patrol. While in custody members of the group reportedly identified Osuna as the guide who had abandoned the two immigrants. The brother of the woman who died also reportedly identified Osuna.

However, a second guide was identified by members of the group, but he was not found with them.

That man, identified as Perez, allegedly worked with Osuna in bringing the group across the border.

Figueroa said Perez had been staying in Mexicali when he turned himself over to U.S. authorities.

Both Perez and Osuna are being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego. The investigation into the smuggling incident is ongoing.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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