New details are emerging in the death of man killed in a fiery car explosion after being chased by Border Patrol along Interstate 8 in Pine Valley in March 2012.
Court documents filed in federal court earlier this month confirm for the first time that a Border Patrol agent did use a Taser device seconds before the man's car became engulfed in flames.
The family of the young man who died is suing the federal government, claiming the taser caused the car explosion that resulted in their son's death. The company that makes the devices has warned that they should not be used in proximity to flammable materials because they send off a spark when fired.
Earlier this month, the federal government answered back to the lawsuit describing how this was the second time the man led officers on a high-speed pursuit trying to evade arrest.
In the more recent incident, the family of 25-year-old Alex Martin says Martin was on his way back from Texas in March 2012 when he became lost in Pine Valley. According to court documents, Border Patrol agents tried to stop Martin who was driving in the wrong direction on I-8 freeway.
He sped away leading officers on a high speed pursuit.
"At one point, Martin pulled over and stopped near the Sunrise Highway off ramp. But Martin sped away when Border Patrol agents got out of their car," the court filing from the U.S. Attorney's office states.
Attorney Eugene Iredale is representing Martin's mother and father in the wrongful death lawsuit.
"Here it was a dark night. A young man, who is lost in the area, who is trying to find the right way to go ... and he's approached by agents who start screaming at him," said Iredale.
Iredale says agents in unmarked cars deployed spikes in the road to deflate Martin's tires. Martin continued driving anyway on flat tires until he finally had to come to a stop.
Agents yelled at Martin to get out of the car and show his hands, according to court documents. And when he didn't, an agent used his flashlight to break a window and then deployed a Taser device to try to subdue him, the court documents state.
Gabriel Pacheco, a lead Border Patrol union representative, said the risk to the agents involved in the incident was high. The agent who deployed the taser received minor burns to the face and was also blown-off his feet by the car explosion.
Pacheco said all Border Patrol procedures were followed in the pursuit and stop.
"You have a vehicle running down the freeway in the wrong direction. We've had other incidents where we've had 'alien smuggling' occurring in the same fashion - running down the freeway in the wrong direction," Pacheco said. "We need to stop that car and get that car safely off the freeway."
The federal court records state that this was not the first time Martin resisted law enforcement, describing an incident nine months prior when Martin fled the scene of a DUI hit-and-run accident in Texas, leading officers on a high speed pursuit then. When he staggered out of his pick-up truck during that incident, police found a .38 caliber pistol and ammunition, according to the court records.
Iredale, attorney for Martin's family, said weeks went by before Border Patrol admitted that a taser had been used before the explosion, and he pointed out the incident was one of three in recent years where the agency's use of force has been called into question.
"They completely covered up, ignored, refused to disclose the fact that this explosion happened after the taser, with its electric spark, and that caused this explosion," Iredale stated.
Iredale also represents the family of Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas, whose case garnered national media attention in 2010 after a passerby documented a crowd of Border Patrol agents using a Taser on an immobile, handcuffed Hernandez-Rojas as he begged for help in Spanish. He died shortly after the incident.
Family of Valeria "Monique" Alvarado, a 32-year-old mother, have also employed Iredale to seek answers to her September 2012 death. She was fatally shot by a Border Patrol agent while fleeing from a home where an arrest warrant was being served. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has stated the agent who shot her was carried on the hood of her car for several hundred yards before he fired his gun.
Pacheco said Martin's death could have been avoided if he had pulled over his car and yielded to the law enforcement officers.
"My question would be: 'Why would he flee?'," Pacheco said. "Anybody who is in their right mind typically would understand that if they see a red or blue light behind them that they would need to yield to the law enforcement that's behind them."