A traffic stop on what appeared to be a brown UPS truck Monday evening revealed 77 immigrants stuffed shoulder-to-shoulder inside its hot cargo area, authorities said.
Five children were found traveling among the overheated group of Mexican nationals, who admitted to being in the U.S. illegally, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday in San Diego federal court.
The complaint alleged the following sequence of events:
A California Highway Patrol officer pulled the truck over because the vehicle had no tags and was weaving on Old Highway 80, about a mile west of Tierra Del Sol Road. A U.S. Border Patrol agent patrolling the area in an unmarked car passed by the vehicle stop and asked the officer if he’d like assistance.
When the agent approached the truck, he observed it was riding “extremely low” and had what appeared to be fresh paint on the rear. He could also smell body odor and what was described as the pungent smell of a soap commonly used in Mexico.
The truck’s driver, a U.S. citizen who had been placed in the CHP car, said the truck was his and gave permission to search.
When the agent opened the rear doors, he found dozens of people standing inside, sweating excessively.
In an interview with authorities, the driver, Shawn Lee Seiler, admitted to being a human smuggler who was expecting to transport 50 people that evening, the complaint says. He said he was surprised to learn there were 77 inside.
He told investigators he was to be paid $100 for each immigrant he transported, the complaint alleged.
Seiler was arrested on a charge of transporting unauthorized immigrants for financial gain.
Criminal charges were also lodged against two of the immigrants after records checks found they had prior deportations. The remaining people in the group are being held as material witnesses in the smuggling case.
Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune