A man responsible for a vehicle rollover near Sonoita that sent him and three undocumented migrants to the hospital has pleaded guilty at U.S. District Court in Tucson.
Marcos Estrella Ornelas, a U.S. citizen born in 1995, pleaded guilty on Dec. 7 to transporting undocumented migrants for profit and putting human life in jeopardy, court records show. He is now awaiting a sentencing hearing, at which he faces a term ranging from three to five years in prison.
According to the criminal complaint filed against Estrella, Border Patrol agents spotted a silver 2007 Pontiac G6 traveling east on State Route 82 on the afternoon of Nov. 9. The complaint says the agents thought the driver looked nervous, then made additional unspecified “observations” that convinced them to follow the sedan.
The Pontiac continued east on SR 82 after reaching the crossroads in Sonoita, and agents tried to initiate a traffic stop by activating their lights and sirens near Milepost 35. Instead, the driver of the vehicle, later identified as Estrella, sped up.
Near Milepost 36, the Pontiac tried to pass vehicles in front of it as a motorcycle was approaching in the westbound lane. The agents reportedly saw the car go onto the north shoulder, then cross both lanes and collide with an embankment on the south side of the highway. It then rolled several times before coming to a rest approximately 50 yards down the road.
Ornellas was found in the driver’s seat, and appeared “conscious but in pain,” the complaint says. As the agents were rendering first aid, he reportedly identified himself as a U.S. citizen, said he was sorry for running and didn’t mean for the crash to happen.
A loaded .22 revolver was reportedly found on the driver’s side floorboard.
One person exited from the front passenger seat, and two others had been ejected from the vehicle. All four occupants were taken to the hospital for treatment.
The front-seat passenger and one of the people who were ejected were determined to be citizens of Mexico who were in the country illegally. They were treated for injuries described as a broken clavicle, head injury and abrasions, and then released to federal custody.
The fourth passenger, who had not yet been identified when the complaint was filed on Nov. 10, was flown via helicopter to Banner University Medical Center in Tucson with what were described as “serious injuries.”
“He has not regained consciousness and is breathing only with medical assistance,” wrote the law enforcement officer who swore out the complaint.
By the time Estrella pleaded guilty on Dec. 7, the person had been identified by name and determined to also have been in the country illegally. Their current medical condition wasn’t clear from the available court documents.
One of the undocumented passengers allegedly told investigators he had paid $8,000 to be smuggled into the United States. He said he crossed the border through the mountains near Nogales with two other people and walked until they saw a silver vehicle whose driver told them to get in.
The passenger said he was in the vehicle for approximately 30 minutes when he noticed Border Patrol vehicles trying to pull them over. The driver accelerated, and the man said the last thing he remembered seeing was a motorcycle coming toward them.
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