ARIZONA NEWS

Sierra Vista launches an anti-smuggling awareness campaign

Mar 6, 2022, 10:13 AM
(Facebook Photo/Cochise County Sheriff's Office - Mark J. Dannels Sheriff)...
(Facebook Photo/Cochise County Sheriff's Office - Mark J. Dannels Sheriff)
(Facebook Photo/Cochise County Sheriff's Office - Mark J. Dannels Sheriff)

SIERRA VISTA, Ariz. (AP) — The message from law enforcement is simple — come to Cochise County to transport migrants for a quick buck and you’re going to jail.

The Cochise County Sheriff’s Office and the County Attorney’s Office, in conjunction with the Border Patrol, Sierra Vista Police and the Arizona Department of Public Safety, are launching a campaign aimed at individuals who are slipping into the area daily, intent on picking up undocumented migrants and delivering them to Phoenix or Tucson in exchange for cash.

These individuals — known as load car drivers because undocumented persons are often referred to as a “load” — are getting paid about $1,000 for every undocumented person they can stuff into their vehicles, investigators say.

The issue, aside from the fact the migrants have crossed the border illegally, is that load car drivers — usually from Phoenix, other parts of Arizona, or other states — are unfamiliar with the area and they’re instructed by their recruiters to drive as fast as humanly possible in order to avoid capture, Sheriff Mark Dannels and County Attorney Brian McIntyre said.

More often than not, police say, the drivers are teenagers eager to make quick cash at the risk of the community’s safety.

McIntyre explained that load car drivers are often recruited via social media. They are paid half of their cash before they pick up their assigned group of migrants, and the other half is paid when they deliver the undocumented people to their destination. Usually the load car driver is told to drive to a particular spot where the money is hidden, McIntyre said.

“We have to get this stopped,” McIntyre said. “I think we’re having an average of one (load car) a day.

“The problem we’re having is that these folks are being told by the people who are recruiting them that the faster you go the more likely it is that you’ll get away. When the reality is that the faster you go the more likely it is that you’re going to kill somebody, including yourself.

“The situation is becoming way too dangerous because of the way they’re being recruited. They’re getting the impression that if they just flee from law enforcement instead of pulling over, their day somehow gets better.”

Pursuits between law enforcement and load car drivers have already ended in deaths and injuries in Cochise County. Last year two undocumented persons were killed in Bisbee after police said their load car driver’s vehicle flipped over; and one motorist was killed near Huachuca City last summer after investigators said a load car driver slammed into the motorist after running a red light.

Just hours after local, state and federal law enforcement officials met at the Sheriff’s Office on Feb. 28 to finalize plans for the campaign, there was another high speed pursuit of a 17-year-old load car driver and his 16-year-old passenger whom Sheriff’s investigators said were transporting four undocumented migrants.

The teens took officers from several agencies on a wild ride down various thoroughfares through the county that finally ended when the teens wrecked their Honda just off Interstate 10 in Benson, the Sheriff’s Office said. No one was injured. The two teenagers were arrested and the migrants were taken into custody by the Border Patrol.

The teens, taken to the Cochise County Jail, are facing fleeing and eluding charges, official said.

Another pursuit over the weekend involving several juveniles from Phoenix resulted in a serious vehicle collision that sent multiple occupants to the hospital. Although no migrants were in that vehicle, authorities suspect they were planning to pick some up.

“We’re aggressively pursuing not just everyone that we catch on the day of, but also tracking down those people who have succeeded in getting away by abandoning their car,” McIntyre said. “We’re using investigative methods to track them down and different groups will be visiting some people soon and (they’ll) bring them back to take care of the charges that are here.”

The campaign that kicks off this week will include an ad in the Herald/Review, as well as messages on mobile billboards. Various social media venues will be employed to get the word out to potential load car drivers.

“This effort is to discourage those who want to partake in smuggling,” Dannels said. “We’re putting our strategies together, our missions together and our badges together to hold these people accountable.”

In the last few days there have been officers from a handful of agencies standing watch in areas known for load car pickups around the county. In some instances, Border Patrol agents may team up with Sheriff’s deputies or other law enforcement agencies in an effort to saturate certain hotspots, the Sheriff said.

“We need to stand firm and get them to stop coming here,” McIntyre said. “We’re trying to get on all sides of the messaging (by) prosecuting, but we’re also trying to educate them on their way down (to Cochise County) so at least maybe some of them might decide to turn around.

“We’ll pummel people with advertising. The message is real simple — if that’s what you’re coming down here for, slow down, turn around and go home or our jail will take you.”

Officials launch anti-smuggling awareness campaign

By Lyda Longa lyda.longa@myheraldreview.com Mar 2, 2022 Updated 1 hr ago

The message from law enforcement is simple — come to Cochise County to transport migrants for a quick buck and you’re going to jail.

The Cochise County Sheriff’s Office and the County Attorney’s Office, in conjunction with the Border Patrol, Sierra Vista Police and the Arizona Department of Public Safety, are launching a campaign aimed at individuals who are slipping into the area daily, intent on picking up undocumented migrants and delivering them to Phoenix or Tucson in exchange for cash.

These individuals — known as load car drivers because undocumented persons are often referred to as a “load” — are getting paid about $1,000 for every undocumented person they can stuff into their vehicles, investigators say.

The issue, aside from the fact the migrants have crossed the border illegally, is that load car drivers — usually from Phoenix, other parts of Arizona, or other states — are unfamiliar with the area and they’re instructed by their recruiters to drive as fast as humanly possible in order to avoid capture, Sheriff Mark Dannels and County Attorney Brian McIntyre said.

More often than not, police say, the drivers are teenagers eager to make quick cash at the risk of the community’s safety.

McIntyre explained that load car drivers are often recruited via social media. They are paid half of their cash before they pick up their assigned group of migrants, and the other half is paid when they deliver the undocumented people to their destination. Usually the load car driver is told to drive to a particular spot where the money is hidden, McIntyre said.

“We have to get this stopped,” McIntyre said. “I think we’re having an average of one (load car) a day.

“The problem we’re having is that these folks are being told by the people who are recruiting them that the faster you go the more likely it is that you’ll get away. When the reality is that the faster you go the more likely it is that you’re going to kill somebody, including yourself.

“The situation is becoming way too dangerous because of the way they’re being recruited. They’re getting the impression that if they just flee from law enforcement instead of pulling over, their day somehow gets better.”

Pursuits between law enforcement and load car drivers have already ended in deaths and injuries in Cochise County. Last year two undocumented persons were killed in Bisbee after police said their load car driver’s vehicle flipped over; and one motorist was killed near Huachuca City last summer after investigators said a load car driver slammed into the motorist after running a red light.

Just hours after local, state and federal law enforcement officials met at the Sheriff’s Office on Feb. 28 to finalize plans for the campaign, there was another high speed pursuit of a 17-year-old load car driver and his 16-year-old passenger whom Sheriff’s investigators said were transporting four undocumented migrants.

The teens took officers from several agencies on a wild ride down various thoroughfares through the county that finally ended when the teens wrecked their Honda just off Interstate 10 in Benson, the Sheriff’s Office said. No one was injured. The two teenagers were arrested and the migrants were taken into custody by the Border Patrol.

The teens, taken to the Cochise County Jail, are facing fleeing and eluding charges, official said.

Another pursuit over the weekend involving several juveniles from Phoenix resulted in a serious vehicle collision that sent multiple occupants to the hospital. Although no migrants were in that vehicle, authorities suspect they were planning to pick some up.

“We’re aggressively pursuing not just everyone that we catch on the day of, but also tracking down those people who have succeeded in getting away by abandoning their car,” McIntyre said. “We’re using investigative methods to track them down and different groups will be visiting some people soon and (they’ll) bring them back to take care of the charges that are here.”

The campaign that kicks off this week will include an ad in the Herald/Review, as well as messages on mobile billboards. Various social media venues will be employed to get the word out to potential load car drivers.

“This effort is to discourage those who want to partake in smuggling,” Dannels said. “We’re putting our strategies together, our missions together and our badges together to hold these people accountable.”

In the last few days there have been officers from a handful of agencies standing watch in areas known for load car pickups around the county. In some instances, Border Patrol agents may team up with Sheriff’s deputies or other law enforcement agencies in an effort to saturate certain hotspots, the Sheriff said.

“We need to stand firm and get them to stop coming here,” McIntyre said. “We’re trying to get on all sides of the messaging (by) prosecuting, but we’re also trying to educate them on their way down (to Cochise County) so at least maybe some of them might decide to turn around.

“We’ll pummel people with advertising. The message is real simple — if that’s what you’re coming down here for, slow down, turn around and go home or our jail will take you.”

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Sierra Vista launches an anti-smuggling awareness campaign