La Grulla brothers sentenced in deadly smuggling case

McALLEN — Brothers from La Grulla were handed stiff sentences Monday in connection with a human smuggling attempt that left one undocumented immigrant dead.

Daniel Salinas, 32, and Mark Anthony Salinas, 23, stood before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane for sentencing in connection with a Jan. 2017 human smuggling attempt in La Grulla that left one Mexican national dead as a result of the man suffering a heart attack.

Prior to the sentencing, government prosecutor Lynn Wei-Yu Wang said that Pedro Martinez-Arreola, 28, of Mexico, suffered a heart attack when he and multiple other undocumented immigrants attempted to run away from U.S. Border Patrol agents. Having emphasized that the death occurred during the course of a smuggling conspiracy, Wang said Martinez-Arreola would be alive today if he hadn’t attempted to flee from agents, which the prosecutor said was due to Daniel Salinas’ actions.

Wang said Martinez-Arreola died on his way to a local hospital moments after Daniel Salinas, who was transporting Martinez-Arreola and two others, crashed his vehicle into either a tree or brush, attempting to evade law enforcement. The Mexican national complained about numbness in his lower extremities before being transported to a local hospital.

Both of the men pleaded guilty to the smuggling conspiracy in February of last year but were adamant they were not responsible for the death of Martinez-Arreola.

The brother’s troubles began on Jan. 12, 2017, when a La Grulla police officer, who was attempting to stop Daniel Salinas for a traffic violation, turned on his emergency lights. But Daniel Salinas fled and eventually struck a tree, according to the criminal complaint against the two.

“BP agents observed Daniel Salinas run away from the scene and in the direction of Leopoldo Street,” the complaint states. “BP agents pursued Daniel Salinas on foot and observed a second pickup truck arrive to pick up Daniel Salinas as he ran away from agents.”

The driver of that truck was Daniel Salinas’ brother Mark, who got word of the former’s potential run-in with agents and headed to the area to help him escape capture.

Both Salinas brothers ended up attempting to escape via the river before an agent was able to place both men in custody.

But defense counsel Azalea Aleman-Bendiks argued the death happened after the car Daniel Salinas was driving came to a stop, thus her client was not responsible for what the undocumented immigrants did when they decided to flee.

“Nothing (Daniel Salinas) did caused (Martinez-Arreola’s) death,” Aleman-Bendiks said.

To further their argument, Wang called to the stand Dr. Fulgencio “Frank” P. Salinas, of Mission, a forensic examiner who performed the autopsy on Martinez-Arreola.

The examiner testified that Martinez-Arreola’s left coronary artery was “totally plugged up,” and that he could’ve died of a heart attack even if he was just sitting there.

Asked if it was uncommon to see someone who was 28 years old with that degree of blockage, the doctor said it wasn’t common, but he had seen it before in his more than 30 years of practice.

Wang asked if a stressful situation could lead to a heart attack, and the examiner testified it could.

Crane ultimately sentenced Daniel Salinas to 100 months in prison with three years supervised release, while giving his younger brother Mark Anthony Salinas 78 months in prison, with three years supervised release — this higher punishment range was based on a 10-level increase to the federal immigration charge of “bringing in and harboring aliens,” because of the death involved.

Crane said he was convinced that Martinez-Arreola’s excited state resulted in his heart attack and that Daniel Salinas put him in that situation.

Mark Anthony Salinas’ attorney, Orlando Jimenez, of Edinburg, made a similar argument to that of Aleman-Bendiks’, but said after the hearing he does not expect his client to appeal the sentence.