Judge sentences boat pilot to 18 years in prison for three smuggling-related deaths
The smuggler who was at the helm of an overloaded 40ft vessel that capsized off Point Loma last year, drowning three migrants and triggering a chaotic rescue effort, was sentenced on Friday to 18 years in prison. jail.
Antonio Hurtado, 40, who lived aboard the aging trawler-style boat, was illegally transporting 32 migrants to the United States on the morning of May 2, 2021, when the ship drifted onto the rocks below the Cabrillo National Monument and swerved. violently broken.
He pleaded guilty in April to felony charges of attempted human smuggling resulting in death and attempted human smuggling for profit in relation to each of the three deceased migrants.
In passing sentence on Friday, U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino called the case “the most egregious” she had seen in her courtroom in more than 15 years. The sentence went beyond the 17-year sentence recommended by federal prosecutors, who called the nature and circumstances of the case “extremely aggravated” and “almost without comparison” in a border district where maritime smuggling is become common.
The doomed journey began on the night of May 1, after fellow smugglers delivered the migrants from the Baja California beach town of Puerto Nuevo to Hurtado’s boat, the Salty Lady, which waited around two hours offshore near the Coronado Islands, prosecutors say. The migrants had paid $15,000 to $18,000 each to be smuggled into the United States
Once underway, Hurtado had difficulty navigating the rough waters, and some of his passengers reported that he had taken drugs on several occasions during the difficult journey. “At one point, the defendant passed out from his drug use, leaving the boat circling for an extended period as his passengers desperately tried to wake him up,” the assistant U.S. attorney wrote. Seth Askins in a sentencing memorandum.
In the hours before dawn, the boat’s engine died. Rather than call the coast guard for help, as his passengers had pleaded, he called an unidentified co-conspirator to tow the boat to shore. He ordered the migrants to hide under the bridge.
The tow arrived and tried to help mid morning, but by then the boat was dangerously close to the reef and the sea was too rough.
“Knowing that his boat was doomed and choosing to save himself rather than assist his human cargo, the accused was the first person to jump out of the boat and begin heading for shore,” Askins said.
The boat crashed on the reef. Many migrants remained trapped in the cabin when the boat broke up. Passers-by near the Cabrillo National Monument watched in horror, and some jumped into the water to join the growing rescue effort.
Three Mexican migrants suffered blunt force trauma and drowned: Victor Perez Degollado, 29; Maria Eugenia Chavez Segovia, 41; and Maricela Hernandez Sanchez, 35.
Hurtado, a US citizen, was arrested at the scene. When he informed Border Patrol agents that he was “coming down” from drug use, officers prepared to take him to a drug rehabilitation center. As an officer attempted to put on a transport ankle, Hurtado slammed his knee into the side of the officer’s face, prosecutors said.
Defense attorney Melissa Bobrow said in sentencing papers that Hurtado was prescribed Ritalin – a drug often used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – when she was 3, triggering a life of drug addiction.
“Antonio Hurtado comes before this court because of his drug addiction – all the choices he made, the position he put himself in that led to this tragedy, was the culmination of a life of drug addiction,” Bobrow said.
She said Hurtado had also suffered financial hardship, unable to find steady employment due to the pandemic. He had several problems getting unemployment checks and had made appointments to try to work out backlogs with the state agency in the run-up to the smuggling attempt, she said.
“What happened that day was the most terrifying experience for every person who went through it,” she wrote. “Mr. Hurtado accepts the role he played in it. He would like to be able to go back in time and do a lot of things differently, from the days before the minutes before the tragedy.
Writer Wendy Fry contributed to this report.