Driver in fatal smuggling crash sentenced to 8 years

Federal official: Man swerved into oncoming traffic to evade capture

The federal courthouse at Bentsen Tower, located on Bicentennial Boulevard in McAllen, is seen in this August 2018 file photo. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — A federal judge handed down a 96-month prison sentence for a man involved in a crash that claimed the lives of two Central American immigrants, court records show.

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced Adrian Humberto Ramos-Rivera to eight years in prison for his role in the November 2015 crash in Palmview, according to the indictment against him. Ramos-Rivera and other smugglers were transporting the victims, two undocumented immigrants, at the time.

A native of Nuevo Leon, Montemorelos, Mexico who lacked legal status to be in the U.S., Ramos-Rivera was the driver of a 2002 Dodge Ram pickup truck on Nov. 23, 2015 that veered into oncoming traffic in an attempt to evade what he perceived to be an unmarked law enforcement vehicle. He crashed and two of the immigrants he was transporting — one from El Salvador and another from Honduras — were killed with multiple others injured.

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The truck, which was occupied by 11 males and two females, was traveling north at about At approximately 2:45 p.m. on Bentsen Palm Drive, south of Business Highway 83 near Palmview, when it skidded off the road, according to a news release from the Texas Department of Public Safety the day of the crash.

Driven by Ramos-Rivera, the truck swerved into the adjacent lane and crashed into a southbound 1992 GMC pickup truck with one male passenger. The Dodge veered to the west side of the roadway then rolled over, causing one woman, Carmelina Portillo, of El Salvador, to be ejected — she died at the scene, the release from DPS stated at the time.

Another man, Jose Francisco Veliz-Castro, of Honduras, died later of injuries suffered in the crash.

The driver of the GMC suffered minor injuries. He was taken to the Mission Regional Medical Center and was subsequently released.

According to an official with knowledge of the case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak in an official capacity, government prosecutors argued that Ramos-Rivera was attempting to avoid capture when he veered into the oncoming lane.

Ramos-Rivera, who originally fled the scene of the crash but was subsequently arrested in early 2016 on unrelated state charges, pleaded guilty to one count of bringing in and harboring in November 2018, according to court records. Months before the fatal crash, Ramos-Rivera was charged by Weslaco police in connection with theft charges, jail records show.

Alamo police arrested the 27-year-old man in connection with evading arrest and aggravated robbery charges, according to state records.

Ramos-Rivera, who was residing in Mission at the time of the crash, is the latest defendant to be sentenced in relation to the smuggling fatality case, which also included Benito Zuñiga, who was sentenced to 30 months in prison on one count of bringing in and harboring on Oct. 12, 2017. Juan Mauricio Hernandez-Martinez was also sentenced, receiving 60 months in prison on one count of bringing in and harboring in January.

A fourth defendant, Osvaldo Gonzalez, is scheduled for sentencing July 15, court records show.