By Bethany Blankley (The Center Square)
A multi-agency Operation Lone Star task force actively pursuing human smuggling operations in the small border community of Kinney County saved several people’s lives this week, including a 5-year-old girl stashed inside a car trunk.
In response to an SOS issued by Kinney County Sheriff Brad Coe, Goliad County Sheriff Roy Boyd helped arrange a multi-agency task force to lend a hand. On Monday, officers from over 20 agencies began identifying and interdicting human smuggling routes and actively interdicting criminal activity.
On Wednesday, The Center Square participated in a ride-along with a task force interdiction unit.
In one pursuit, officers apprehended a driver and passenger with criminal records who’d previously been apprehended by DPS a few months earlier and were released, before coming back to try another smuggling attempt, authorities said. They were caught by Kinney County Chief Deputy Armando Garcia, who pulled the driver over for probable cause and discovered that five people were crammed in the back seat of the car laying flat on top of each other, including a 4-year-old underneath everyone else. When the officers opened the trunk, they said they discovered a 5-year-old girl was hidden inside.
She was unresponsive at first but Garcia and his two deputies revived her and saved her life. The alleged smugglers were attempting to reach Houston. If the child had been in the trunk the whole way, she’d have likely died, law enforcement officers told The Center Square. The driver and passenger were arrested. They later confessed and officers discovered they had pictures of stacks of cash they’d taken stored in their phones to show how much they’d profited from smuggling people from the border to other major cities in Texas, law enforcement officers told The Center Square. Major smuggling destinations, they’ve found, are Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, the Bronx, New York, and New Jersey.
Federal prosecution was accepted on the driver and passenger and the illegal foreign nationals being smuggled were turned over to Border Patrol, authorities said.
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In a pre-dawn pursuit, officers pursued another alleged smuggler who lost control of his truck and crashed into a fence off of Highway 334 and a fire started. Officers arrived on the scene and pulled three illegal foreign nationals out of the vehicle before it was engulfed in flames. While the deputies saved the foreign nationals’ lives, the driver and one foreign national absconded into the brush.
Earlier in the week, on their first day of the multi-day operation, officers engaged in a pursuit, which led to the driver and those inside bailing out of the vehicle and running into the brush, authorities said. Officers pursued them on foot and apprehended them. In another pursuit on the same day, an alleged smuggler led officers through downtown Brackettville, where the sheriff had placed large boulders outside the school to prevent vehicles crashing into it. The driver lost control of the vehicle and it rolled over. The driver and everyone inside tried to evade capture but law enforcement officers apprehended them and the driver was arrested. Those being smuggled were turned over to Border Patrol.
On Tuesday, officers again interdicted two human smugglers, authorities said. One common tactic used to smuggle people is to hide them in the bed of a pickup truck and conceal them under the truck bed cover. In one incident, officers pulled over the driver of a Dodge pickup truck and later discovered one passenger was a “brush guide.”
A brush guide is someone who’s responsible for guiding a group of foreign nationals who’ve illegally entered the U.S. north from the border to major highways and an eventual pickup point, authorities told The Center Square. They travel several miles on foot using GPS on their phones, traverse private property and follow pipelines or railroad tracks to avoid law enforcement. When they reach a pre-arranged designated spot, a driver picks up the group and takes them to their next destination.
In this case, those being smuggled were hiding in the truck bed, authorities said. The arresting officer opened the tailgate of the truck and found five people were crammed inside iding under the cover. The driver and passenger were apprehended and arrested and those being smuggled were turned over to Border Patrol.
On a ride along with an officer on Wednesday, The Center Square observed a possible scout being pulled over from Austin. Scouts are paid by cartel operatives to drive in areas along the border to identify where law enforcement officers are and report back their locations to smugglers so they can avoid them when bringing a load of people north, officers explained.
In another instance, one teenager and one young man in two separate vehicles from Houston were driving around downtown Brackettville. When the teenager was pulled over, upon inspection, the officer discovered that in his possession were xeroxed copies of photo identifications of Honduras nationals – likely individuals waiting to be picked up to be smuggled north, the officer said.
By Wednesday night, deputies in another pursuit caught an alleged smuggler who was believed to have picked up those who’d absconded from a previous bailout, all single Mexican national men in the U.S. illegally, authorities said.
“If it wasn’t for Gov. Greg Abbott, Operation Lone Star, caffeine and patriotism, we wouldn’t get it done,” Coe said.
Syndicated with permission from The Center Square.