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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

2nd human smuggler sentenced in fatal Arizona rollover accident

TUCSON, Ariz. — The second of two convicted Mexican human smugglers has been sentenced in federal court for his role in a 2013 Arizona rollover accident that killed five smuggled aliens and injured more than a dozen others.

Armando Ivan Palomares-Castro, 37, was sentenced Jan. 21 by Chief U.S. District Judge Raner Collins to 15 years in federal prison followed by five years of supervised release. His co-defendant, Francisco Javier Labrador-Valderrama, 21, was sentenced in October to nine years in prison followed by three years of supervised release. The pair pleaded guilty in June 2013 to transportation of illegal aliens for profit, resulting in death, following a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with assistance from U.S. Border Patrol.

The men were arrested April 20, 2013, following a fatal rollover accident on Interstate 10 near Wilcox, in which five smuggled aliens were killed and 16 others were injured.

"This tragic case illustrates the callous disregard for human life that is inherent in the human smuggling trade," said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of HSI Arizona. "HSI is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to identify and dismantle human smuggling networks and bring their members to justice."

According to court documents, Palomares-Castro and Labrador-Valderrama led two groups of 20 people on foot from Mexico across the U.S. border into Arizona. The two groups merged and trekked six days together through Arizona's Chiricahua Mountains before a U.S. Border Patrol helicopter located them, causing the groups to scatter. Some of the aliens later reunited with Palomares-Castro and Labrador-Valderrama and continued on foot.

Eventually, the group reached a Chevrolet Tahoe that had been delivered for their use. Palomares-Castro drove the vehicle, with Labrador-Valderrama in the front passenger seat, nine people in the middle row and nine others huddled in the cargo area. They were later encountered by U.S. Border Patrol on Interstate 10 southeast of Tucson near Wilcox, where Border Patrol agents attempted to stop the vehicle.

In an effort to elude authorities, Palomares-Castro accelerated the Tahoe to more than 90 miles per hour, with the group throwing backpacks out of the vehicle towards the U.S. Border Patrol vehicles. Ultimately, Palomares-Castro lost control of the Tahoe and it rolled over, killing five passengers and injuring 16 others.

Surviving passengers subsequently identified Palomares-Castro and Labrador-Valderrama as smuggling foot guides. A third foot guide was killed in the accident.