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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Human smuggler from Mexico sentenced to nearly 17 years in federal prison after 5 killed in for south Texas car crash

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A Mexican national was sentenced to nearly 17 years in federal prison and must pay nearly $3 million in restitution for his involvement in a deadly single-vehicle crash that occurred in Brooks County in November 2013.

This sentence was announced by U.S Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. This investigation was conducted jointly by the following agencies: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Border Patrol, the Falfurrias (Texas) Police Department, the Brooks County Sheriff's Department, and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

"The tragic loss of life in this case shows the very real risks that people face when they put themselves in the hands of a smuggler," said Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of HSI Houston. "Those who illegally move people into and through our country place personal profit ahead of public safety and border protection. They are driven by greed with little regard for the health and well-being of their human cargo, which can be a deadly combination."

Manuel Rendon-Lucas, 19, was sentenced Friday by Senior U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack. Judge Jack sentenced the teenager to 200 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. Rendon-Lucas was also ordered to pay more than $2.65 million in restitution. In handing down the sentence, the judge noted she had never seen such an egregious case. Rendon-Lucas pleaded guilty March 21 to conspiracy to transport illegal aliens causing serious bodily injury.

The charges stem from a single-vehicle crash Nov. 23, 2013 in Brooks County that killed five and injured 10, including Rendon-Lucas, who was driving. All the vehicle's occupants were determined to be illegal aliens from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Ecuador and Nicaragua.

On that date, while fleeing from law enforcement officers at a high rate of speed, Rendon-Lucas' vehicle hit a construction barrier and began to swerve out of control. As the vehicle began to skid, it exited the roadway and struck a curb with its left front tire, causing the vehicle to become airborne. The front-left portion of the vehicle then struck a tree at a high rate of speed. Five occupants were pronounced dead on the scene, including a brush guide who had assisted in smuggling the illegal aliens. Several survivors sustained spinal fractures during the accident and remain paralyzed.

Rendon-Lucas has been in federal custody since his arrest, and he will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lance Watt, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.