A 10-year-old girl and her mother who were being smuggled across the border in the back of a convertible had to be cut out by firefighters early Tuesday after the compartment they were hiding in failed to open.
The mother and daughter, both Mexican citizens, were not injured. The driver, a 27-year-old U.S. citizen, was arrested on suspicion of human smuggling, authorities said.
The silver Nissan 350Z tried to cross the Otay Mesa Port of Entry at 1:40 a.m., according to the complaint. As it waited in the pre-primary lanes, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection dog alerted to something in the convertible’s compartment area.
The driver, Roberto Silvio Cedeno, handed over his U.S. passport and said he was headed to National City with nothing to declare, the complaint says. He was then directed to secondary inspection.
Officers found two people hiding inside. But the rear compartment would not open. The electronic opener had been disabled, and attempts to remove the hinges were unsuccessful due to safety concerns for the trapped passengers, the CBP said.
The driver had been given instructions on how to open the compartment, but they didn’t work.
San Diego Fire and Rescue firefighters were called to assist. At 2:15 a.m. they cut open a panel through which the occupants could escape, the complaint said.
“This smuggling attempt could have had a tragic end, and I am pleased with the swift response of the officers at the port that recognized the dangers and called San Diego Fire and Rescue to aid in freeing the trapped family," Rosa Hernandez, port director of the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, said in a statement.
The driver told investigators that he met the girl’s mother in Mexico and had agreed to smuggle them, according to the complaint. He said he placed the girl and her mother in the car and was going to take them to National City.
The mother, 30, said she had agreed to pay $2,000 to be smuggled. They were headed to Palm Springs.
The mother and daughter will remain in the U.S. as material witnesses in the prosecution against the driver. Then they will be placed in removal proceedings.