August 26, 2008

Austin Police Chase, Catch Truck Carrying Illegal Immigrants

(John Salazar)
A police chase through South Austin Tuesday ended with seven people in custody in a human smuggling ring.

From the Onion Creek overpass in South Austin, an Austin Police sergeant was running radar on northbound traffic on I-35 Tuesday when he spotted an unusual sight.

The sergeant eyeballed a pick-up truck with a bed full of bodies, people lying down in the back, apparently hiding.

He alerted fellow officers, who identified the truck as stolen. When they tried to stop the truck, the driver sped away. Police gave chase as the truck exited onto Oltorf.

But when the pick-up blazed through stoplights, police abandoned the pursuit in the name of safety.

It was then, though, that the case took an unexpected and lucky turn in the favor of police. Turning right onto Pleasant Valley, the truck was headed down a street that ends in a cul de sac. The truckload of illegal immigrants had literally come to the end of their road.

The driver and three people inside the cab of the truck continued their run on foot, escaping police under the canopy of the greenbelt.

But seven illegal immigrants, who had stowed themselves as hidden human cargo in the back of the pick-up, were rounded up by authorities. Considering they had just been whisked at high speeds down busy streets and through red lights, police say the group is lucky their dangerous dash for freedom hadn't come to a dead end in more ways than one.

"It was very dangerous to be at those speeds in the back of a short bed pick-up truck," Lt. Norris McKenzie of the Austin Police Department's Organized Crime Division said.

As curious neighbors emerged to watch authorities take away the seven people who had been in the back of the truck, some applauded the police work that stopped the band of illegals, hundreds of miles from the border where they began.

"Heck yeah, I'm glad to see it. That's what they get paid for. That's where my tax dollars go, so they're doing a good job at it," exclaimed a woman who identified herself only as 'Deborah'.

A juvenile and a woman are among the seven illegals hauled away. They have been turned over to Immigration and Customs officers for processing. Several of them now face federal immigration charges.

An Austin Police spokesman says it doesn't appear they were brought here against their will, but instead smuggled here because they wanted to enter the country.

As for the driver and three others who got away, Austin Police don't consider them to be a threat to the community.

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Should the Texas State Legislature pass immigration enforcement laws in 2009?