The captain of a boat full of migrants that ran aground and broke apart off the coast of San Diego last year pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges. Three people died in the accident.
Antonio Hurtado, 40, of San Diego, pleaded guilty to felony charges of attempted human trafficking resulting in death and attempted human trafficking for profit. He could be sentenced to life in prison when he is sentenced in July.
Prosecutors say Hurtado, a US citizen, was transporting 32 immigrants from Mexico to the United States last May. The boat sailed at night and in the rain, with strong waves.
In his plea agreement, Hurtado said that he used drugs during the trip and at one point lost consciousness, causing the boat to sail in circles for more than an hour until the other people on board were able to wake him up, according to a press release. the federal prosecutor’s office.
At approximately 6 am on May 2, the boat’s engine died and Hurtado was unable to start it again. The 40-foot (12-meter) fishing-type vessel drifted about 50 feet (15 meters) from shore when it ran aground and broke apart in heavy surf off Cabrillo National Monument.
Hurtado jumped out and swam to shore, while the rest of the passengers fell into the water when the boat shattered, prosecutors said.
Several people at the scene, including a Navy rescuer and National Park Service employees, tried to rescue the passengers.
However, María Eugenia Chávez Segovia, 41, Maricela Hernández Sánchez, 35, and Víctor Pérez Degollado, 29, drowned after suffering blows to the head, according to the San Diego County coroner’s office.
The surviving migrants told investigators they each paid between $15,000 and $18,000 to be taken to the United States on the boat. All but one were Mexican, including a 15-year-old boy and girl who were traveling unaccompanied by an adult.
“This was a horrendous tragedy that should never have happened,” US Attorney Randy Grossman said in a statement. “It was a shocking and insensitive series of events… I have said it many times and I will say it again: Never trust a trafficker. They only care about money.”
Hurtado also pleaded guilty to assaulting a federal official. He kneed the face of a Border Patrol agent who was trying to shackle him on the beach, authorities said. The agent did not suffer serious injuries.
The smuggling attempt was one of several last year that ended in disaster. A few weeks after the accident, one person was killed and eight more were injured in a human smuggling attempt off the coast of La Jolla, in San Diego. Days earlier, 23 people had to be rescued in another incident after their boat got stuck in the breakers.
On March 21, a pickup truck full of migrants collided with a trailer in the farming community of Holtville, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) east of San Diego. The crash killed 13 of the 25 people in the 1997 Ford Expedition, including the driver. It was one of the deadliest border accidents in US history.