COCHISE COUNTY — A man who investigators say was attempting to smuggle four undocumented migrants through Cochise County on Tuesday afternoon was stopped by Sheriff Mark Dannels and Border Patrol agents in a subdivision off State Route 92.
The suspect, 23-year-old Dustin Howerton of Phoenix, was arrested and charged with felony flight, possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, endangerment, aggravated DUI, criminal trespass and criminal damage.
At least two of the four undocumented migrants were caught and taken into custody by the Border Patrol, sheriff’s officials said. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carol Capas said there were a total of five people in the Dodge truck driven by Howereton, including the suspect. Two other undocumented migrants got away, authorities said.
It’s unknown where Howerton was planning to take the individuals.
Capas said the Sheriff’s Office had been notified Tuesday that the driver of a maroon-colored Dodge truck had been spotted on SR 92 and Kings Ranch Road loading the migrants into the vehicle just before 3 p.m.
Dannels, out on patrol, spotted the truck on SR 92 near Ash Canyon Road, heading south at a high rate of speed, Capas said. Dannels and a second deputy initiated a traffic stop at SR 92 and Three Canyons Boulevard, but as they approached the truck, Howerton took off, heading north on SR 92, Capas said.
Howereton then turned onto Emory Oak Ridge and continued at a high rate of speed on the dirt road before stopping in front of a house, Capas said. The occupants in the truck all bolted from the scene, running behind the residence.
One man — an undocumented migrant — was arrested. Howerton meanwhile, was discovered facing the back of the house. The suspect blurted out that two of his four passengers were U.S. citizens and that one of them had threatened him with a gun. That later tuned out to be bogus, Capas said. The second undocumented migrant was spotted near the house and was arrested.
“We believe the four occupants (with Howerton) were undocumented migrants,” Capas said.
One of the residents of the house told the sheriff and others at the scene that Howerton attempted to climb onto the second-floor balcony and was unsuccessful. The resident said Howerton left his shoes and a fanny pack on the ledge, Capas said. The house was then checked by authorities, but no other individuals were found, Capas said.
Howerton’s truck was impounded. His fanny pack was searched and law enforcement officers found pills and drug paraphernalia, Capas said. Howerton was taken to Copper Queen Community Hospital to have his blood drawn to determine if he was driving under the influence. He is in custody at the Cochise County Jail in Bisbee.
As the incident unfolded, residents in the general area were notified via an AlertSense message telling them to “shelter in place,” Capas said.
If you are not signed up for the AlertSense notifications and you’re interested in receiving them, log on to: Cochise.az.gov/Sheriff, click on the Emergency Notification System, then follow the prompts.