Driver of Van in Fatal Crash Sentenced to Federal Prison for People Smuggling

DENVER (Lawfuel) – Troy A. Eid, United States Attorney for the District of Colorado, and Jeffrey Copp, Special Agent in Charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Colorado, announced that JOSE BENEDICTO JOSE-ZACARIAZ, age 28, of Guatemala, was sentenced today by U.S. District Court Judge Wiley Y. Daniel to serve 42 months in federal prison (3 ½ years) for the transportation of illegal aliens within the United States resulting in death. The defendant was remanded and ordered to start serving his sentence immediately.

The defendant was indicted on July 26, 2007. He pled guilty before Judge Daniel on February 5, 2008. He was sentenced today.

According to the stipulated facts contained in the defendant’s plea agreement, JOSE-ZACARIAZ, a Guatemalan national illegally in the United States, was working at a car wash in Mesa, Arizona, when he was approached by a customer, and offered a better job and a place to live in Alabama. The customer then solicited the defendant to drive a van of other illegal aliens to a variety of destinations in the eastern United States.

On July 14, 2007, the defendant left Mesa, Arizona, driving a van containing nine citizens of Guatemala who had previously been smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico. The aliens got into the U.S. by spending three days walking through the desert. There were not enough seats in the van, so some passengers had to sit on the floor or on the spare tire in the rear compartment. JOSE-ZACARIAZ was given some money for gas and a telephone number to call when he reached Alabama.
While driving eastbound on I-70 near Eagle, Colorado, the van, operated by the defendant, was hit from behind by a tanker truck and destroyed. Three of the unbelted occupants were ejected from the vehicle and killed. A fourth occupant died later. All of the other occupants, including the defendant, were injured in the crash.

“Human-smugglers gamble with people’s lives and must be treated accordingly,” said U.S. Attorney Troy Eid.

“Unfortunately, the fact that human smugglers have no regard for their passengers is routinely demonstrated again and again, and is especially apparent following their vehicle crashes,” said Jeffrey Copp, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Denver. “However, in this case four people died emphasizing how human smuggling organizations maximize their profits by routinely transporting aliens in crowded and unsafe vehicles and conditions, and with inexperienced drivers.” Copp oversees a four-state area which includes: Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.

This case was investigated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Colorado State Patrol. The defendant was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Wyatt Angelo and Roxane Perruso.

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