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Smuggler sentenced to 8 years in prison for role in freeway deaths

SAN YSIDRO CA JUNE 8, 2017 -- Only one of the ten iconic Caltrans caution signs emblazoned with th
Immigrant crossing caution signs once dotted Interstate 5 in San Diego County. The last one vanished in 2017.
(Cindy Carcamo / Los Angeles Times)

A Mexican citizen was sentenced Tuesday to just over eight years in prison for his role in the deaths of two immigrants who were run over on Interstate 5 during a smuggling attempt.

Jorge Luis Martinez Hernandez, 33, was a guide for a group of eight who had just crossed through a hole in the border fence near the San Ysidro Port of Entry on Sept. 17, authorities said.

According to his plea agreement, Martinez led the five adults and three juveniles through the fence and into a waiting Dodge Caravan next to the southbound lanes of Interstate 5 about 1:45 a.m. He took the wheel and began driving the wrong way on the freeway. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers pursued him, paralleling him in the northbound lanes.

Martinez then stopped the vehicle and directed the group to run to another area, where other vehicles were expected to pick them up. Two of the people were struck by a Chevy Trailblazer as they ran across the southbound lanes near the Camino De La Plaza exit.

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Martin Flores Esteban and Bernardita Cuellar Prado were killed.

Martinez and the others were later apprehended when they were found hiding in brush.

He told investigators that he was to be paid $1,000 per person he smuggled into the U.S., according to court records.

The 97-month sentence by U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Huff follows Martinez’s guilty plea in April to eight human smuggling-related charges.

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Martinez, who lives in Tijuana, has a previous human smuggling conviction on his record.

kristina.davis@sduniontribune.com

Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune


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