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Man pleads guilty to human smuggling charges following SUV vs. CMV crash that left 13 dead

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This week, a Mexican man pleaded guilty to charges related to human smuggling that issued in the wake of a crash that killed more than a dozen people in California in 2021.

On Tuesday, March 21, Jose Cruz Noguez pleaded guilty to one count of Conspiracy to Bring in Undocumented Migrants and three counts of Bringing In Undocumented Migrants for Financial Gain, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California.

The charges stem from a crash that occurred on March 2, 2021, near Holtville, California.

From a news release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office:

In a hearing in United States District Court, the defendant admitted that he and his co-conspirators sought to smuggle a large number of undocumented migrants into the United States by loading them into modified SUVs and breaching an area of the international boundary fence between Mexico and the United States near Calexico, California. In the days leading up to March 2, 2021, the defendant committed various acts for the purpose of carrying out the conspiracy, such as attempting to recruit at least one criminal associate to drive a load vehicle containing as many as 20 undocumented migrants.

And during the early morning hours of March 2, 2021, before the smuggling event, Cruz Noguez used his vehicle to scout the area that the load vehicles would be traveling. After confirming there was no law enforcement in the area, defendant’s co-conspirators loaded dozens of undocumented migrants – including at least one minor who was unaccompanied by a parent or guardian – into two modified SUVs and drove them into the United States through a breach they had cut in the international boundary fence. Once successfully in the United States, the two load vehicles traveled west along Interstate 8, and as has been reported in the media, one of the vehicles – a GMC Yukon – caught fire on Interstate 8 near Highway 115. Shortly thereafter, the other vehicle – a Ford Expedition – collided with a tractor-trailer on Highway 115 near Holtville, California. Thirteen individuals in the Ford Expedition died tragically as a result of the accident.

In his plea agreement, Cruz Noguez admitted that he and his co-conspirators were smuggling the undocumented migrants into the United States for financial consideration and with the intent to violate the immigration laws of the United States.

The truck driver involved in the collision suffered moderate injuries.

Another individual who remains a fugitive has also been charged in connection with the deadly human smuggling attempt.

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