By ALICIA A. CALDWELL
Associated Press Writer
EL PASO, Texas- State and federal officials are investigating death threats against Hudspeth County sheriff's deputies and their families that local officials believed are tied to a recent standoff on the Texas-Mexico border.Chief Deputy Mike Doyal said Wednesday that two deputies and the wife of third officer were warned that they should "stay off the river" or they and their families would be killed.
Sheriff Arvin West said he believed the threats came from men connected to the Jan. 23 standoff between Texas lawmen west of El Paso and armed drug smugglers dressed in Mexican military-style uniforms. He declined to provide other details.
"All I can say for sure is that it was someone in Mexico," West said.
Doyal said three unidentified men threatened the wife of one of the county's 12 deputies.
Andrea Simmons, an FBI spokeswoman in El Paso, said Wednesday the FBI is aware of the threats but does not have a role in the investigation.
West, who said area drug traffickers know just about everything about his deputies, was among a contingent of Texas lawmen who testified Tuesday at a congressional hearing about Mexican military incursions into the United States.
He said he has no doubt that the men carrying automatic weapons and driving a military-style Humvee were Mexican military, despite denials from the Mexican government. West also said federal authorities confirmed to him that the weapons and Humvee used in the confrontation were from the Mexican military.
Mexican officials have identified four drug smugglers among those involved in the incident. Government officials have suggested that smugglers dressed as soldiers and may have even stolen the military-issued equipment.
The recent border confrontation started when a Texas Department of Public Safety officer tried to pull over one of three sport utility vehicles suspected of being loaded with marijuana. The SUVs sped south along a winding, two-lane highway, eventually cutting into the desert as the drivers headed for the Rio Grande.
A video of the chase viewed during Tuesday's hearing in Washington showed the speeding SUVs weaving down the center of Highway 34. Officers can be heard frantically calling for backup, while a dispatcher advises that they use caution.
One of the SUVs blew a tire on the highway, and the driver fled on foot. A second SUV made it across the Rio Grande, while a third got mired in mud along the south bank of the river near Neely's Crossing, about 50 miles (81 kilometers) east of El Paso.
Armed men unloaded large bales of what was believed to be marijuana and then set the SUV on fire after the Humvee, spotted crossing from the United States into Mexico as police chased the vehicles, tried unsuccessfully to tow the stranded car.
Officials from both countries are continuing to investigate the incident. A second congressional hearing is scheduled for March.
Associated Press writer Suzanne Gamboa in Washington contributed to this report.