Human smuggling charges filed in fatal Utah crash
A driver is accused of smuggling undocumented immigrants through Utah, four of whom died last week when their van rolled off Interstate 70 last week in Grand County.
Elvis J. Quintanilla-Vasquez, 36, was driving seven men to Chicago to work for a family member there when the van crashed May 16 about 34 miles west of the Colorado state line, investigators wrote in charges filed in Utah.
Four of the men were flung from the van and died.
The Utah Highway Patrol on Friday identified three of those victims as Freddie Sanchez-Garcia, 19; Rueben Alberto Perez- Manriquez, 32; and Efrain Morales Carteno, 30. Troopers withheld the fourth victim's name pending family notification.
Three other men were injured, along with Vasquez, and were near the van when troopers arrived.
Investigators found no valid U.S. identification on the survivors, but the victims were carrying false documents. Their permanent resident cards lacked flags or presidential images on the backs, Social Security cards had spelling and grammatical errors, and Mexican out-of-country identifications displayed off-center photos and poorly-cut lamination, investigators wrote.
One of the survivors told investigators that Quintanilla-Vasquez had a female passenger in the front seat when he picked them up in California; witnesses saw her run from the crash scene, and she hadn't been found as of Friday, troopers said.
Charges do not indicate where in California the men were picked up. The men did not know the name of the company they would be working for, or even the industry in which they would be working, investigators wrote. The seven men hailed from Mexico and El Salvador, troopers have said.
Quintanilla-Vasquez was charged in Moab's 7th District Court with four counts ofsecond-degree felony aggravated human smuggling, three counts of third-degree felony human smuggling, and one count of class C misdemeanor improper lane travel.
He underwent surgery at a Grand Junction hospital for injuries he suffered in the crash and is in the Mesa County Jail in Colorado awaiting extradition to Utah.
As of Tuesday, two of the three injured passengers were in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, federal officials said. The condition of the third passenger was not known.
It is the second human smuggling case to arise from a fatal crash in Grand County in recent years. On Oct. 11, 2005, a van carrying 15 people including 14 undocumented immigrants rolled near Moab.
Two passengers, Guatemalans Juana Ixcuna-Chich and Amalia Perez-Lucas, were killed.
The suspected smuggler, Raul Ramirez-Becerra, was a passenger in the van and was injured. He fled from a Moab-area hospital and was a fugitive until his arrest in Phoenix in 2007. In 2008, Ramirez-Becerra, then 27, pleaded guilty to a charge of transporting undocumented immigrants resulting in death and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.
His co-defendant, Noe Luna-Escalona, was driving the van at Ramirez-Becerra's request when he fell asleep and drifted off U.S. Highway 191. He overcorrected and rolled the 2000 Dodge Caravan. He was sentenced in 2006 to 24 months in prison.