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Border Patrol agent fatally struck by fleeing suspect

Officer Down: Senior Border Patrol Agent Luis Aguilar

By Richard Marosi, Rebecca Trounson
The Los Angeles Times

SAN DIEGO — A U.S. Border Patrol agent pursuing suspected drug smugglers along the California-Mexico border was struck and killed Saturday by one of the fleeing vehicles, agency officials said.

The agent was trying to stop two vehicles that had illegally entered the U.S. from Mexico when he was hit, said agent Jeremy Schappell, a spokesman for the Border Patrol's Yuma sector. He said the incident occurred about 9:30 a.m. in the Imperial Sand Dunes recreation area, about eight miles west of the border crossing at Los Algodones.

The name of the victim was being withheld until relatives could be notified, Schappell said. He said the man was a 6-year veteran of the agency.

The death, the first for the Border Patrol in 2008, drew a sharp response from U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who called the incident a "heinous" act.

"Dangerous criminal groups have chosen to respond to our tougher security posture at the border with increased violence," Chertoff said in a statement. "They mistakenly believe that we will give way in the face of violence. We will continue to show them how wrong they are."

The incident was being investigated by the FBI, as well as officials from the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the statement said.

Schappell said Border Patrol agents spotted a Hummer and a second vehicle that had crossed the border from Mexico illegally and chased them west on Interstate 8. The people inside the vehicles apparently saw they were being followed and turned into the dunes toward Mexico. The agent was attempting to stop them by placing spike strips in their path when he was struck by the Hummer, the spokesman said.

The agent died at the scene.

Reported assaults against Border Patrol agents have risen in many areas along the border in recent months, but the area of Saturday's incident, in the southeastern corner of California, had been relatively quiet, Schappell said. From Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, the agency counted 19 assaults against agents in the Yuma sector, compared with 94 for the same period in 2006.

By contrast, assaults on agents in the San Diego area, where the Border Patrol has been involved in a series of clashes with rock-throwing smugglers, have risen dramatically. The agency said there were 90 assaults against agents between Oct. 1 and the end of 2007, five times as many as during the same period in 2006.

Copyright 2008 Los Angeles Times

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