Peñitas men formally charged with murder in smuggling crash

EDUNBURG — Two men facing a 17-count indictment that includes murder charges entered not guilty pleas Monday morning.

Jesus Eduardo Estrada

Peñitas residents Jesus Eduardo Estrada, 19, and Humberto Garcia, 27, appeared in the 430th state District Court for arraignment on charges of two counts of murder, two counts of evading arrest causing death, six counts of smuggling of persons causing serious bodily injury, six counts of evading arrest causing serious bodily injury and one count of engaging in organized criminal activity.

The charges stem from a deadly March 13 head-on crash on U.S. Highway 83 near La Joya that killed San Juan residents Leonel Martinez Jr., 45, and Aurora Chavez, 69.

Humberto Garcia

The Texas Department of Public Safety arrested the men several days after the crash and charged Estrada, the accused driver of the vehicle, with murder, and Garcia with engaging in organized criminal activity.

A Texas Department of Transportation crash report states that the driver of a green 2004 Ford Expedition containing “unrestrained occupants” was traveling  eastbound at a high rate of speed while fleeing authorities when the driver steered onto a grass median to pass other vehicles. That’s when they lost control, veering into the westbound lanes, and collided with a white 2007 Nissan Sentra driven by the victims.

The men are accused of causing serious bodily injury to Lucas Morales-Xirum, Luica Perez-Antero, Blanca Lily Villegas-Diaz, Tomas Gabriel Gonzalez-Morales, Yeslin Janeth Mendez-Ramos and Presentacion Martinez while attempting to smuggle them into the United States.

The indictment also accuses the men of engaging in organized criminal activity with Gaudalupe Garcia-Chavez, Esmeralda Rubell-Martinez, Luis Gabriel Medrano and Alejandra Gonzalez-Lopez to smuggle the group.

Jail records show DPS arrested Gonzalez-Lopez on Aug. 5 and charged her with engaging in organized criminal activity. According to the TxDOT crash report, she owned the Ford Expedition.

Records, however, don’t return results for Garcia-Chavez, Rubell-Martinez or Medrano.

Garcia, who remains jailed on a $500,000 bond, has a criminal history that includes attempted capital murder on accusations that he shot one person and shot at five people on Feb. 21, 2010.

He reached a deal with prosecutors on May 11, 2016, and pleaded guilty to robbery and was sentenced the eight years community supervision.

In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dropped the attempted capital murder indictment.

Estrada remains jailed on $2.5 million in bonds.