Family of Boy Shot at Border Files Wrongful-Death Suit

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Almost exactly one year after 12-year-old Emilio Jimenez Bejines was shot and killed along the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, his relatives have filed a $30-million wrongful-death suit naming as defendants both his alleged assailant and the family from whose home the fatal shot was fired.

Dwight Ray Pannel, 24, of Imperial Beach, is serving a two-year prison term for an involuntary manslaughter conviction in connection with the shooting, which occurred on the afternoon of May 18, 1990. He was also ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution.

The civil suit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Diego, seeks damages from Pannel and from three members of the Cuen family, who reside along Monument Road in San Diego, about a quarter of a mile north of the border. The suit, filed by Marco E. Lopez, the San Diego attorney who represents the dead boy’s family, alleges that the defendants’ negligence contributed to the death.


Authorities say Pannel fired the fatal shot from the rear balcony of the Cuen home during an afternoon spent drinking beer and target shooting with several friends, including Leonard Paul Cuen, who is among the defendants named in the suit. Pannel has never acknowledged firing the fatal shot.

The Cuen balcony is about 430 yards north of the site where the youth was struck. The boy was hit in the head and died instantly as he, two siblings and an uncle were traversing a hillside frequented by undocumented immigrants. The group had just crossed the border and was en route to the boy’s parents’ home in Orange County.

San Diego police initially arrested Cuen in connection with the shooting, but he was later released and was never formally charged. Cuen owned the .30-caliber hunting rifle that killed the boy, authorities say.

Pannel, a former construction worker, has maintained through his lawyer that the death was accidental and that he never intended to kill anyone.