Man pleads guilty to human smuggling that led to fatal plane crash in Imperial District

A man who coordinated a human smuggling operation that led to an accident in Imperial County that killed 13 people and injured several more pleaded guilty in San Diego federal court Tuesday.

José Cruz Noguez, 49, from Mexicali, Mexico, has admitted his role in the smuggling attempt that led to the March 2, 2021 crash near Holtville that killed 13 Mexican and Guatemalan citizens when the SUV carrying the victims crashed into a tractor trailer at an intersection . Norrish Road and State Route 115.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Cruz Noguez’s involvement in the smuggling operation included trying to hire a driver and searching for law enforcement in the area where cars loaded with undocumented migrants would move.

U.S. Attorney’s Office said that in the early hours of March 2, two SUVs drove through an open section of the border fence near Calexico and then headed west on Interstate 8.

One of the SUVs broke down on Interstate 8 near Holtville and 19 undocumented immigrants were arrested there by US Border Patrol agents, according to the US Attorney’s Office. Another SUV was involved in a fatal crash, with a dozen victims dying at the crash site and another dying in hospital.

Prosecutors later filed charges against another individual, Froilan Cortes Avalos, 49, who is still a fugitive.

According to the indictment, Cortes Avalos was involved in planning and preparing the smuggling event, including working with others to cut a 10-foot section of the border fence to allow vehicles to enter the United States.

Cruz Noguez is due to be sentenced in June following his allegations of one count of conspiracy to smuggle undocumented migrants and three counts of smuggling undocumented migrants for financial gain.

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