Arrests made in deadly La Joya crash tied to human smuggling

The driver of an SUV involved in a deadly crash on U.S. Highway 83 outside La Joya last week is behind bars, the Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed Wednesday.

The driver, identified as 18-year-old Jesus Eduardo Estrada of Peñitas, was arrested Tuesday on two counts of murder, and single counts of smuggling of persons and engaging in organized criminal activity.

Estrada was allegedly trying to flee from a state trooper on the morning of March 13 when he crashed his Ford Expedition into a Nissan Sentra, killing San Juan residents Leonel Martinez Jr., 45, and Aurora Chavez, 69. Estrada then fled the scene on foot and managed to evade DPS, Border Patrol agents and local police who spent much of that day looking for him in the brush surrounding the highway.

Humberto Garcia, 25, of Peñitas, was also arrested Tuesday in connection with the case on engaging in organized criminal activity charges. He was not in the SUV at the time of the crash but part of the smuggling operation, DPS spokeswoman Sgt. Maria Montalvo said.

Estrada was traveling eastbound on U.S. 83 when a trooper attempted to conduct a traffic stop on his vehicle around 10 a.m. DPS has not provided the reason for the traffic stop.

Six migrants he was allegedly transporting were hospitalized for injuries sustained in the crash. DPS has provided few details about the migrants as has U.S. Border Patrol, with DPS spokeswoman Sgt. Maria Montalvo saying Wednesday that all of the migrants “survived and are doing fine.”

Estrada and Garcia were arraigned by Precinct 2 Place 2 Justice of the Peace Jaime “Jerry” Muñoz on Wednesday and transferred to the custody of the Hidalgo County sheriff’s jail. Muñoz set Estrada’s bond at $2.5 million and bond for Garcia at $1 million.

Correction: This post was updated to reflect the correct charges for Humberto Garcia. The original information provided by DPS was incorrect.