Federal authorities charged a 33-year-old Mexican man Tuesday with driving a vehicle packed with suspected illegal immigrants that crashed last week north of Tucson, killing nine people.
The driver and nine other passengers were hurt.
Brian Guzman Ochoa of Hermosillo, Mexico, knowingly transported and moved people who were in the United States illegally, a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix said.
Guzman was scheduled to appear Tuesday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Michelle Burns for an initial appearance, at which time a lawyer would be appointed if he has not retained one already.
Sandy Raynor, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office, said her office would not speculate on additional charges.
But in other cases involving smuggling vehicles that resulted in multiple fatalities, federal prosecutors have come down hard. In May, a federal judge in Phoenix sentenced Adan Pineda-Doval, 22, of Michoacan, Mexico, to life in prison as the driver in the June 2006 rollover deaths near Yuma of 10 illegal immigrants, including a pregnant woman and her unborn child. They were among 20 people he was driving to Los Angeles.
A federal jury found Pineda-Doval guilty of 10 counts of transporting illegal immigrants causing death and two lesser charges.
The one-count complaint against Guzman said at least two survivors from El Salvador identified Guzman and a man who died in the crash, Josue Acosta Ramirez, as guides who took the others from Agua Prieta, Mexico into the United States.
One witness, described as "a juvenile," identified Guzman through a photo as the driver, according to a sworn affidavit attached to the complaint. The other identified Guzman through the photo as one of the guides, and said both Guzman and Acosta were sitting in front. But he said he did not know who was driving because the passengers "were told to keep their heads down."
Both witnesses said that Guzman and Acosta had been smoking marijuana before they entered the SUV.
The northbound SUV veered off state Route 79 last Thursday about 15 miles south of Florence, slammed into the far bank of a 30-foot dry wash and flipped onto its roof. Rescue workers had to extricate the dead and injured.
According to the affidavit, Guzman told Arizona Department of Public Safety officers at the crash scene "that he was the driver and that everybody involved in the collision were his family members from Agua Prieta.
He later told Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents that he was traveling with his son to Phoenix and was going to pay $1,800 to be smuggled. ICE agent Manuel Ochoa also wrote that Guzman gave various versions of how he wound up behind the wheel, that he did not know how to drive but drove anyway, and that he suffers from epileptic seizures.
Records show Guzman had been arrested at least three times for transporting illegal immigrants and once as a guide, and that he had been caught several times by Border Patrol agents with large groups of immigrants.
Last week, the Guatemalan Consul General in Phoenix said at least five of the survivors were from El Salvador and three from Mexico, and at least one of the dead was determined to be from Guatemala.
Authorities from those countries, along with the Pima County medical examiner's office, have been trying to identify all the dead and notify kin.
Pima County Medical Examiner Dr. Bruce Parks says only one victim has been identified so far, a Mexican man. Several others have possible names, but none have been confirmed yet, he said.
"Currently, we're looking at people from at least two countries, El Salvador and Mexico," Parks said on Tuesday.