Breckenridge Texan

Local traffic stop leads to suspected human smuggling investigation

Local traffic stop leads to suspected human smuggling investigation
June 26
07:59 2021

By Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan

A traffic stop by a Stephens County deputy sheriff earlier this week, resulted in the apprehension of 11 people inside a vehicle that appeared to involve the human smuggling of immigrants who were illegally in the United States.

According to Stephens County Sheriff Kevin Roach, Deputy Ryan Drake made the stop around noon on Tuesday, June 22, when he noticed “indicators” that tipped him off that humans were being smuggled in the vehicle.

“Well, we call it ‘indicators,’” Roach said. “There were just certain things about the vehicle that caught his attention. So when he started viewing the vehicle, he started seeing multiple bodies and the way they were in there. They weren’t just sitting in the seats like a normal family going down the highway. They were laying down, and it’s just some weird looking stuff going on, which is ‘indicators’ of smuggling something, most likely humans.”

Roach said other area law enforcement agencies became involved in the traffic stop when the driver didn’t stop after Drake attempted pull the vehicle over using his emergency lights and siren.

“He initially tried to stop them in the downtown area,” Roach said. “He (the driver) didn’t run from him; he just didn’t yield,” Roach said. “And that’s really why all the units jumped in, you know, Highway Patrol, Breckenridge Police Department. Everybody came running because he’s calling in a vehicle failing to yield. Then, it turned out it was the illegal immigrants.”

The vehicle eventually pulled over into a convenience store parking lot in the 1300 block of East Walker.

According to Roach, all the individuals being transported were adults with the youngest one being 26 years old. The eight men and three women, who he said their investigation determined were illegal immigrants from Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru, were being transported in a Honda Odyssey van that had a temporary Texas license plate. He said they suspected the driver was the smuggler and the other 10 individuals were being smuggled.

Roach said the driver, who spoke Spanish, was very cooperative and told them, through a translator, that they had left Mexico on Saturday and crossed the border, and they were going to Dallas. Based on the condition of the occupants’ clothes, Roach said, it appeared that they had crossed some kind of desert terrain on foot before they started traveling in the vehicle.

He said aside from their clothes being dirty and showing signs of crossing a desert area, they did not appear to have been malnourished or mistreated and had plenty of liquids to drink in the vehicle.

Roach said one of the first things they focus on when they make a stop like Tuesday’s stop, is communication. “Luckily, one of the Highway Patrol was fluent in Spanish and was able to communicate, and then we brought in a county employee that could translate also,” he said.

He also said an another immediate concern is to make sure the people are not in physical danger. He said they then assess whether or not they’re going to be detained by the federal government. And then, once they get into the jail, they go through the same process as any other inmate.

“We assess them mentally, physically,” Roach said. “You know, do they need showers if we’re going to house them for very long; wash their clothes, give them showers. We fed them. We fed them pretty quickly after we got them to the jail. But you know, they’re treated like any other inmate at that point.”

There has been an uptick on the number of stops being made on U.S. Highway 180 with illegal immigration since smugglers have started using alternate routes to avoid being caught on the Interstate 20. This is the second group of immigrants that has been arrested in Stephens County this year. In February, eight illegal immigrants were taken into custody following a traffic stop about seven miles east of Breckenridge on U.S. Highway 180. That case also involved suspected human smuggling.

“We were told about six, seven months ago to heighten our awareness,” Roach said. “I don’t know if you recall, but I think Snyder had gotten an 18-wheeler truckload of illegal immigrants. And Albany in Shackleford County had gotten some. So that’s the word is they’re hitting different routes to try to avoid detection.”

All 11 individuals arrested on Tuesday were transported to the Stephens County Jail on federal detainers issued by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which will take custody of the illegal immigrants and transport them to a federal holding facility. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will be completing the investigation and determine if federal charges are filed against the human smuggler.

Roach said the man suspected of being the smuggler will also be turned over to federal authorities and they will determine whether to prosecute him on smuggling.

Also assisting in the investigation were other members of the Stephens County Sheriff’s Office, the Breckenridge Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety Highway Patrol Division.

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