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Man accused of staging smuggling operation in fatal crash near US-Mexico border

A US resident has been charged with the smuggling operation that left 13 people dead after a semiconductor crashed into an SUV filled with 25 people – many of them Mexican and Guatemalan nationals – earlier this month.

Jose Cruz Noguez, of Mexicali, Mexico, was arrested Monday evening while crossing the United States from Mexico, according to an FBI announcement. Cruz, 47, is a lawful permanent resident of the United States who has spent time in San Jose, Calif., Officials said.

The SUV, driven by a 28-year-old Mexican resident, entered the intersection just before a large platform crashed into the side of the SUV. The driver and 12 other passengers packed into the SUV died.

Cruz has been charged with conspiring to bring migrants to the United States, causing serious bodily harm and bringing them in without showing financial gain, officials said.

“Getting dozens of people into eight-passenger vehicles and driving recklessly to avoid detection shows complete disregard for human life,” acting US attorney Randy Grossman said in a statement. “We will find and prosecute the smugglers who use these methods and cause such tragedy. And preventable deaths.”

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The accident shed light on immigration and border issues. The fatal collision occurred at Mach 2 in southern California, just 10 miles north of the border, where two vehicles entered the United States through a 10-foot hole in the fence, customs said and border protection.

Another smuggler, who claimed to be an associate of Cruz, said he was recruited to be the driver, although he refused. The smuggler then spoke during a “secretly recorded” call with Cruz, where he confirmed his involvement, the complaint said.

Cruz also said in the appeal that “his other associates had cut the border fence, the vehicles were fully loaded and he had collected money for the event,” according to the complaint.

“Thirteen people lost their lives on March 2 because of unscrupulous smugglers,” said chief border patrol officer in the El Centro sector, Gregory K. Bovino. “The US Attorney’s Office, Homeland Security Investigations and the US Border Patrol will stop at nothing to find, arrest and prosecute the smugglers’ organizations and this case is proof of that.”

Contribution: Grace Hauck, Colin Atagi and Christal Hayes

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Imperial County Crash: Man Accused of Organizing Smuggling Operation

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