By Ildefonso Ortiz
CITRUS CITY, Texas — A high-speed pursuit of a stolen truck Monday afternoon resulted in a multiple-vehicle wreck that killed six people and hospitalized several more in western Hidalgo County.
A Texas Highway Patrol sergeant was chasing a truck that had been stolen out of Alton when the fleeing vehicle came into the intersection of Mile 7 and Western roads, striking three other vehicles, according to a news release from the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The driver then tried to flee on foot but was caught by state troopers before being taken to the hospital. Authorities had not released his identity by press time Monday.
Sandra Nunez was enjoying a quiet afternoon in her home just north of Mile 7 and Western roads when she heard a commotion outside and called her cousin, who lives down the street, to make sure she was OK.
"All of a sudden you heard a helicopter and sirens and everything," Nunez said in Spanish as she pointed toward the wreck. "I had never seen anything like this before. I am a little shocked by this and it's so scary that over there people died."
The scene of the wreck was just east of Juarez-Lincoln High School, and school officials placed several school buses just south of the wreck to block the view of the scene.
On the north side of the wreck, various concerned individuals approached state troopers asking if their loved one was there.
A visibly concerned man wearing a white shirt and blue jeans jumped the crime scene tape as he rushed toward the scene of the wreck.
"I need to know if my wife and my baby are there," the man said in Spanish. After spending several minutes speaking with authorities, the man walked back with more questions than answers. "I don't know."
Pursuits have become a common occurrence in western Hidalgo County because the area just west of Mission marks a gap in the border fence. That unimpeded stretch of land leading to the Rio Grande sees increased vehicle pursuits in which vehicles smuggling drugs and immigrants drive at high speeds along U.S. 83 before taking to the lesser-trafficked roads in an effort to lose authorities.
Such chases have yielded grim headlines:
— On April 10, 2012, nine immigrants died along the frontage road of Interstate 2/Expressway 83 in Palmview when Junior Benjamin Rodriguez -- who was 15 at the time — was driving a van filled with immigrants in the country illegally and then tried to flee when U.S. Border Patrol agents tried to stop him. As he fled, the teen lost control of the van, causing it to spin around. Several of his passengers were launched out of the van and straight into the concrete road, killing nine of them. Since then, the boy has been certified as an adult to stand trial, which he is awaiting.
— On Oct. 25, 2012, a 14-year-old driver was smuggling nine immigrants under a tarp in the bed of a red pickup truck near La Joya. When game wardens with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department tried to stop him, the teen fled, starting a chase that state troopers soon joined. Eventually a DPS helicopter was called in, and a DPS sharpshooter aboard the helicopter was given permission to shoot out the tires of the fleeing pickup. DPS later said its personnel thought the truck was carrying drugs, not people.
The shots successfully disabled the truck, but they also killed two Guatemalan immigrants and injured a third. Amid the ensuing backlash, DPS changed its policy on shooting vehicles during pursuits.
The Hidalgo County District's Attorney's Office has taken the case to a grand jury to determine whether the shooting was justified or criminal in nature. The grand jury is still looking over the case.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2013 The Monitor