SAN ANTONIO – Two men face federal charges for smuggling an SUV full of undocumented immigrants and crashing into a stock tank, killing three of those immigrants.
It was a traffic stop that ended in tragedy early Wednesday morning.
News 4 was the only TV station in the federal courtroom Thursday when a judge read the criminal complaint against Javier Silva, the driver, and his associate, Jose Lopez.
The document detailed the journey the group of undocumented workers took to build new lives in the United States.
That journey ended with most of them clinging to life on top of the submerged SUV or on the banks of a rural stock tank.
Search-and-rescue divers later found the bodies of three men in the water.
"It's very tragic,” Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt said. “These people were trying to come over here to make a better life for themselves. Even though they were coming here illegally, it's tragic their life had to end this way.”
Now Silva and Lopez face federal charges for knowingly transporting a dozen undocumented immigrants.
One of those immigrants told federal investigators she and about 15 others were smuggled into McAllen. From there, they were driven to an unknown location and walked for about three days.
She said the group ended up roughly 75 miles away in Falfurrias, where Silva’s truck picked them up.
Lopez, the associate, said they were on their way to Houston. But the group only made it as far as Poth, where the Tahoe crashed into the stock tank.
Lopez told investigators he had made the trip from Falfurrias to Houston three other times to transport undocumented immigrants. He said Silva would usually pay him about $300 for his help.
Both Lopez and Silva said in court they are not U.S. citizens.
Because three people died during the smuggling operation, a federal judge said the men face either the death penalty or life in prison with three years supervised released and a $250,000 fine.
Both men are scheduled to appear in court for another hearing in two weeks.