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Fatal SUV crash driver among 5 charged in smuggling scheme

A heavily damaged SUV is seen on Texas Highway 85 in Big Wells, Texas on June 17, 2018 after crashing while carrying more than a dozen people fleeing from Border Patrol agents. A federal grand jury on July 18, 2018 indicted several people in Texas connected to an alleged immigrant smuggling scheme, including the driver of an SUV crash last month that killed five of 14 people inside. | David Caltabiano/KABB/WOAI via AP

DALLAS — A 20-year-old man indicted in an alleged immigrant smuggling scheme was under federal supervision when he led authorities in Texas on a high-speed chase and crashed an SUV, killing five of the 14 people inside, according to court records.

Federal prosecutors said the driver, Jorge Luis Monsivais Jr., and four others were indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury in Del Rio, Texas, for their roles in the alleged smuggling scheme. All five face multiple federal counts, including conspiracy to harbor illegal immigrants.

Authorities say Monsivais crashed a Chevrolet Suburban as he entered Big Wells, a town about 100 miles southwest of San Antonio. Five immigrants in the U.S. illegally died from the June 17 crash.

At the time, Monsivais was on supervised release for a federal charge. Court documents show Monsivais was arrested “transporting” three immigrants to San Antonio for an average price of $1,500 per person. He had been sentenced to more than a year in prison and three years of supervised release.

A U.S. probation officer wrote in court documents that Monsivais had received his General Equivalency Diploma, completed substance abuse treatment and participated in a mental health assessment. But, the probation officer also wrote that his “reckless behavior” and “blatant disregard for the safety of humans” show he is not willing to comply with the conditions.

The crash happened after Border Patrol agents became suspicious of three vehicles traveling in a convoy between El Indio and Carrizo Springs, Texas. Two of the three vehicles fled when agents tried to make “immigration inspections.”

The Suburban driven by Monsivais crashed. The other vehicle, driven by a 17-year-old boy, also fled from authorities but eventually pulled over. An affidavit said the teenager had been hired by Marcial Gomez-Santana, the driver of the vehicle that did not take off when agents approached.

Gomez-Santana is of the five defendants indicted Wednesday. Two others charged — Rudy Gomez of Hockley, Texas; and Johana Gomez of Houston — are his children.

Witnesses said Gomez-Santana and his son Rudy would call the family members of the immigrants to collect additional smuggling fees, according to court records. Witnesses also reported that Mariela Reyna, another indicted defendant, came to cook for the immigrants at a stash house at least two times.

Johana Gomez told authorities that one of the vehicles was registered to her boyfriend and she went to Eagle Pass to sell it. According to the affidavit, she later said her father “needed to use the vehicle for something.”

The teenager driving the 2008 Tahoe said Johana Gomez “was present when he discussed his role” in the smuggling venture, according to the court records.