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March 17, 2021San Antonio, TX, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

Austin man charged in connection to the deaths of 8 undocumented immigrants

SAN ANTONIO — On Wednesday, special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) filed a criminal complaint charging an Austin man with transporting undocumented immigrants resulting in death.

HSI, in coordination with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP,) are investigating this case. On March 17, Sebastian Tovar, 24, from Austin appeared in federal court and was charged for his role in a conspiracy to transport undocumented immigrants resulting in death.

According to court documents, the federal criminal complaint alleges that on Monday, Tovar was traveling in a maroon pickup truck on FM 2523 near Del Rio when a DPS trooper attempted to stop him for speeding. Tovar failed to stop, and a pursuit ensued. Tovar led the trooper on a chase for approximately 50 miles, at times reaching speeds over 100 miles per hour. Traveling north into the southbound lane on Highway 277, Tovar collided with another vehicle head-on, resulting in the death of eight undocumented immigrants that had been in Tovar’s pickup truck.

The driver and passenger of the vehicle which Tovar collided are hospitalized and in stable condition. Furthermore, the complaint alleges that following the crash, CBP agents on the scene encountered a beige pickup truck stopped in traffic on Highway 277 near the crash site. While agents were directing traffic, multiple occupants jumped out of the beige pickup and fled the scene. Agents subsequently apprehended twelve immigrants who fled that truck. Two of the immigrants both Mexican citizens, confirmed they were part of a failed human smuggling attempt in which the group illegally crossed into the U.S. and were divided between the maroon and beige pickup trucks for transport purposes. Tovar, who remains in federal custody, faces up to life in federal prison upon conviction.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Banister, Western District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.

A criminal complaint is merely a charge and should not be considered as evidence of guilt. The defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of DHS and a vital U.S. asset in combatting transnational crime and threats. One of HSI’s top priorities is to protect the public from crimes of victimization, and HSI’s child exploitation investigations program is a central component of this mission set. HSI is recognized as a global leader in this investigative discipline, and is committed to utilizing its vast authorities, international footprint and strong government and non-government partnerships to identify and rescue child victims, identify and apprehend offenders, prevent transnational child sexual abuse, and help make the internet a safer place for children.

To report a crime, call 866-347-2423 (TTY for hearing impaired: 802-872-6196).

Updated: 03/18/2021