Suspected Human Smuggling Panga Captain Arraigned on Grand Jury Indictment

Migrants who were aboard the boat said they paid between $15,000 and $18,500 to be smuggled into the U.S., according to an affidavit

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The man accused of captaining a panga boat carrying dozens of undocumented migrants that crashed amid rough waters and killed three people was arraigned on Tuesday on a federal grand jury indictment charging him with two dozen counts.

Authorities said 39-year-old Antonio Hurtado, a U.S. citizen, was behind the wheel of a 40-foot trawler-style vessel carrying 32 others during the late hours of May 2 in a voyage to smuggle undocumented migrants into the U.S. The Border Patrol confirmed that in addition to Hurtado, the boat’s passengers included 31 Mexican nationals and one Guatemalan national.

The indictment against Hurtado includes charges of attempted bringing in illegal aliens resulting in death and attempted bringing in illegal aliens for financial gain in connection with the deadly crash. He also remains charged with assault on a federal officer for allegedly striking a Border Patrol agent with his knee after he was arrested.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael S. Berg entered a not guilty plea on the defendant's behalf Tuesday morning in San Diego federal court.

According to an affidavit, migrants who were aboard the boat said they
paid between $15,000 and $18,500 to be smuggled into the United States and
identified Hurtado as the vessel's captain.

The smuggling plan was thwarted in the early hours of May 3, the following morning of when those involved set off for the U.S., when the “severely overcrowded” boat capsized in rugged waters off Point Loma. All occupants jumped in the water as the boat sank.

When the U.S. Coast Guard and San Diego lifeguards responded to the scene, they witnessed people drowning in waves 5 to 6 feet high, according to SDFD Lifeguard Lt. Rick Romero.

A total of three people drowned in the incident, the Medical Examiner’s Office said. They were identified as 41-year-old Maria Eugenia Chavez-Segovia, 29-year-old Victor Perez Degollado and 35-year-old Maricela Hernandez Sanchez -- all citizens of Mexico.

All surviving passengers, including Hurtado, were taken into U.S. Customs and Border Patrol custody.

Hurtado’s suspected attempt came amid several human smuggling efforts caught in May.

The defendant is scheduled to return to court on July 9.

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