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Rodeo, New Mexico: A town under siege by reckless Border Patrol pursuits.

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

Results of Border Patrol pursuit on March 23, 2023 through the small town of Rodeo, New Mexico.

On March 23, 2023, a vehicle suspected of smuggling migrants was spiked by Lordsburg, New Mexico Border Patrol agents according to the agency's press release and then lost control on Highway 80 and I-10 and hit a New Mexico Department of Transportation critically injuring the driver and passengers. The driver of the load vehicle was killed and his four passengers were seriously injured as well. Citizens in the small town of Rodeo, New Mexico are greatly concerned as pursuit after pursuit is chased through their small town at speeds often over 100 mph placing locals and their families at risk of becoming injured and killed.

The Pursuit:

The March 23rd pursuit began at approximately 9:26 a.m. according to the CBP's (Customs and Border Protection) press release dated April 8, 2023. This pursuit occurred on a small two-lane road that travels north from the border through the town of Rodeo. These are the facts according to press release:

  • 9:26 a.m. - Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office Deputy Lyle Rogue witnesses the load vehicle, a GMC Sierra truck, northbound on Highway 80 at mile marker 1. The vehicle appeared to be speeding at about 80 mph in a 55 mph zone. The deputy engaged his emergency lights and siren to perform a vehicle stop at mile marker 2.

  • 9:28 a.m. - The pursuit is seen at mile marker 2 by Border Patrol Agent George Rangel, and he falls in behind the Deputy Pogue to assist in the pursuit. The vehicle fails to yield, and the deputy terminates the pursuit after 1 mile by pulling to the side of the road and turning off his emergency equipment at mile marker 3. Border Patrol Rangel claimed to have no radio contact with the deputy, meaning Border Patrol Agent Rangel had no information as to why Deputy Pogue initiated and then terminated the pursuit.

  • Note: According to these statements, the load vehicle would be traveling at 60 mph (speed=distance/time) and not 80 mph from mile marker 1 when the pursuit was initiated by the deputy and mile marker 3 when the deputy terminated.

  • 9:28 a.m. - As Border Patrol Agent Rangel takes over the same pursuit that the Hidalgo deputy terminated, he radioes a Supervisory Border Patrol Agent to monitor the pursuit as required by policy. The Agent Rangel notified the supervisor that although the Sierra was "traveling at a high rate of speed," there was "limited non-involved vehicle traffic" meaning there was not a danger to the public.

  • unknown time - At mile marker 4, as the Sierra continued to fail to yield, Border Patrol Agent Josiah Jaquez joined the pursuit and became the lead pursing vehicle with the Agent Rangel becoming the secondary vehicle.

  • 9:38 a.m. - Border Patrol radioed that the Sierra veered into traffic on the small two-lane road. The supervisor monitoring over the radio ordered the pursing agents to "back-off from the Sierra to see if the fleeing driver would slow down." The pursing agents then claimed they were following the failure to yield that just endangered innocent drivers from "approximately one-half mile" away.

  • unknown time - At mile marker 27.5, an agent was positioned with a spike strip but did not deploy it because there was traffic in front of the Sierra on the two-lane road. Note that this statement indicates that the traffic flow has changed since the statement that there was "limited non-involved traffic" was made, yet agents did not terminate.

  • 9:44 a.m. - At mile marker 30.5, a different Border Patrol agent apparently successfully spiked the Sierra truck load vehicle according to their press release.

  • Note: From mile marker 2 at approximately 9:28 a.m. to mile marker 30.5 at 9:44 a.m. when the Sierra was spiked is 28.4 miles in approximately 16 minutes. This would put the speed of the load vehicle being pursued at approximately 106.5 mph. This speed is not a safe speed to spike.

  • 9:45 a.m. - CBP's press release stated that the Sierra load vehicle then entered the ramp to I-10 and collided head-on with the New Mexico Department of Transportation truck.

  • Note: The Sierra load vehicle then travels approximately 2 miles in 1 minute making the speed after having its tires successfully spike in that 1 minute approximately 120mph.

Patrol Agent in Charge (PAIC) William Crounse statements:

The same day that this pursuit occurred, PAIC Crounse of the Lordsburg Border Patrol Station was scheduled to meet with local ranchers at 1 p.m. in Rodeo, New Mexico where the deadly crash occurred. It was his agents who were pursing and then spiked the truck. The wreck was such a public relations nightmare, he actually responded to the scene earlier. A member in the audience recorded the meeting in which PAIC Crounse divulged the following information that is relevant to this case: (Please be aware that this recording contains operational information that I will not release since it could endanger agents. This recording is available to media or attorneys upon request.)

  • PAIC Crounse: "Um, I always try and be as transparent as possible. If you don’t know, we have an issue on Highway 80 right now. Um, with the national mandate to maintain, um the checkpoints open, Tucson Sector on the eastern corridor, has all their checkpoints open. You know, from north to Sierra Vista, north of Tombstone, places like that and for the last two, almost three months it’s funneled everything from Nogales all the way east, funneled it up through Douglas and up Highway 80. For the month of February, we had 66 vehicle loads that we caught. That’s just what we caught. 90% of them won’t stop; they fail to yield, and they’re all smoking dope and taking something and we spiked like, something like 25 vehicles alone through the month of February. So, it’s getting really bad out there. Last week, one of these vehicles came up…um, they finally got the guy who was high as a kite. I mean, it was, it was really bad. They spiked him on Interstate 10. He got into Lordsburg, went south, hit somebody head on coming up the road. This morning, we were down at Chet Miller’s. I get the phone call. About 9:30 this morning, coming up Highway 80, Hidalgo County attempted to pull over a vehicle. Um, the guy failed to yield for him. We spiked him. Right at Interstate 10, he hit a New Mexico Department of Transportation um, work truck, head on. The driver died. The driver of the load vehicle died, and we had three people flown out in helicopters. So, it’s bad. It’s ugly. It’s out of control."

  • PAIC Crounse: "People are getting killed now, and I’m just glad it’s not one of you or even one of my agents right now but we got to stop it before it gets worse. So, that’s the command decision we made, and we will re-address as we go. It’s not an end all, be all solution because the whole area of Tucson, they have to have a release valve. We can’t maintain it 24/7 with the winds and stuff, but we have to stop these failures to yield. We have to slow that stuff down. We can’t have them coming through Rodeo at 100 miles per hour. Um, been talking with Sheriff ???? and that’s one of his major concerns as well – the way they just blow through Rodeo thinking somebody is chasing them. So, we are just trying to do the best we can, you know, to keep people from being killed, keep the community safe even the vehicle…the people in the load vehicles, keep them safe as well. So, um if it does impact your land or starts to impact your land and stuff like that, please reach out to Gene and Nick Barton. We’ll work with you. We’ll talk to you. But just please keep in mind the direction that we are coming from, the motivation behind what we’re doing. So. I’m just…we’re at the point…we’re tired of…of sending people to the hospital on helicopters. It’s just too much. Does anybody have any questions?"

  • Man: “Is this uh…are these, these drivers that tend to be recruited on some app?

  • PAIC Crounse: “They’re recruited all over the place. They use everything from WhatsApp to Snap Chat to Instagram to uh…They’re actually, there’s been reports, there’s been confirmed reports in uh, Arizona of some of these recruiters going to high schools, recruiting at high schools like it was military career day or something and recruiting 14, 15-year-olds who don’t even have a learner’s permit yet. And probably 99% of them that we get, the driver is…not to disparage someone but in the grand scheme of things, they are a nobody. They are just a throw down person, they’re not a part if the organization or stuff like that. They’re all high smoking something. On Valentine’s Day, 5:30 in the morning, I’m right here on Highway 9 and I get a loaded vehicle. We get everything wrapped up…I mean, when I went up to the window, the guy rolled down the window and goes, 'Yeah, yeah. You got me.' And it’s loaded in the back, and he admitted it. We get everything loaded up, and just as they pull up to the Lordsburg Station to unload them, the guy O.D.s on fentanyl. It took two different doses of Narcan just to bring him around. So, they’re taking fentanyl. They’re smoking weed. They’re doing all kinds of other stuff. They’re into meth. We’re seeing more guns in these load vehicles now. So, it’s something that just doesn’t have us concerned, it has the Sheriff concerned. It has New Mexico state concerned. It has Cochise County very concerned. Cochise County has their Saber Team that works that works that corridor along Highway 80. A lot of the people that we get, that…that fail to yield from-they’ve already failed to yield from Cochise County. We got one a couple of weeks ago that failed to yield from, uh from, who was it? It was a sheriff’s office from up in Sonoita, and we got it down here. So, it’s a big area-wide concern, and there’s no easy solution. It’s not fun to deal with. And no matter which side of the immigration coin you may fall, we’re talking people’s lives. We’re talking public safety. So, we’re doing the best we can with what we got."

  • PAIC Crounse: "So, um we did have HSI (Homeland Security Investigations) and some other investigators going out there. Um, I know New Mexico State had the OMI going out to do some investigation and stuff like that."

  • PAIC Crounse: "If you saw what the condition of those trucks…the toolbox out of the smuggling truck, you know the set-in toolboxes, it was over 60 yards in front of where the truck was after the impact. So, it was…the New Mexico DOT truck, the only thing was… cause you know that loop coming off of I-10, that’s pretty high for an on-ramp. If it wasn’t for the guardrail, that truck with the, the three New Mexico state workers would have went over it. So, it’s a bad, bad scene. I mean it just, it’s sad, but…”

Whatever you think about Border Patrol pursuits, it is clear from PAIC Crounse's own testimony is that the agency has checkpoints on all the roads coming north except for one - Highway 80 through Rodeo. As he stated, this is done intentionally to funnel load vehicles onto this one small two-lane road. Additionally, PAIC Crounse stated that most of load vehicle drivers are on drugs and therefore are not able to make good decisions as he demonstrated with his anecdote.

If Border Patrol operations are funneling vehicle loads through this town, if many load drivers are high on drugs and if "90% of them won't stop," why is Border Patrol initiating pursuits? There can be no claim of ignorance here. The PAIC stated that they know the vast majority will not stop, that most are not able to make split second decisions while driving because they are high on drugs. Is it safe to chase and spike people who you know will not stop and who have a 90% failure to yield rate? Not in my mind.

Crews clean up the after the Sierra collides head-on with the Department of Transportation's truck. (March 23, 2023)

Another issue with this pursuit is that according to the CBP press release, Border Patrol had no idea why they were chasing this Sierra. At first they stated the vehicle was speeding, but their own facts show that apparently the Sierra was traveling at only 5 mph over the stated speed limit. Even if the truck was traveling at "high rate of speed," Border Patrol does not have the authority to pull over vehicles for traffic violations. Not knowing why they were pursuing is in violation of CBP and Border Patrol pursuit policies as one cannot judge when to terminate a pursuit if they do not know why they are pursuing. For example, an agent would have little justification for conducting such a dangerous pursuit if the truck was only speeding versus if it was running over innocent people.

One thing the Border Patrol and all other police agencies do not want the public to know is that spiking a vehicle does often cause it to lose control and crash. I have had extensive training as a former agent on spiking vehicles, and I have spiked numerous load vehicles. The training involved has not changed much over the years. While a spike does allow the air to escape the tire in a slower and more controlled manner, the tires still deflate in a manner of seconds. This occurs so fast that the spiking agent can see and hear the results before the spiked car is out of site. Agents who spike are required to radio the pursuing agents as to if the spike worked or not, meaning the tires deflate rapidly.

While all police agencies and the companies that sell spike strips claim that spiking is safe, agency training shows otherwise. Border Patrol agents are trained that spiking vehicles that are going above 60-70 mph can cause cars to lose control. Spiking on a curve or spiking a car that then enters a curve can often result in roll overs. As this ProPublica in-depth study shows, even the Los Angeles Police Department does not recommend its officers use spike strips at speeds over 65 mph as it tends to cause accidents. Remember that the truck was apparently doing over 100 mph according to CBP's statements.

The Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies that use spike strips claim that vehicles that have been spiked would not wreck if the drivers would just stop. While this would undoubtably prevent many deaths and injuries, PAIC Crounse stated that most of their failures to yield on Highway 80 are because the drivers are high. If he knows this, why would he allow his agents to keep spiking drivers who are not mentally aware of their own actions? He also stated that 99% of the drivers are not smugglers but teenage children from the local area that are not even old enough to obtain a driver's license. Is it wise to spike inexperienced, underage and likely high kids? Expert after expert has unequivocally stated that driving on a flat tire, even at slow speeds can and often does cause accidents. Driving on a flat tire can cause fire, difficulty in steering, problems with braking and even suspension issues.

While it may seem logical to PAIC Crounse that the load drivers should just pull over, it's little consolation to the New Mexico Department of Transportation employees and migrants who were injured that day. The people who were just on their way to work that day may not be able to work again. Their families will suffer, and they likely will not be able to get financial restitution from the agency thanks to multiple federal court decisions making it pert near impossible.

PAIC Crounse seems to think the deaths and injuries from the last two to three months, the lives of those who call Rodeo, New Mexico home are worth the risk. He apparently is willing to work with residents if their property is affected by their out of control pursuits, but not if they kill and injure people. And if the load vehicle has already failed to yield, his agents are apparently allowed to get in behind it and try again. Dangerous and deadly pursuits will continue even if they do not know why they are pursing, even if other agencies terminate, even if it is just to check someone's papers.

UPDATE: On April 18, 2023, New Mexico DPS released report NMSPR2302947 which identified Border Patrol Agents Josiah Jaquez as the primary pursuer and Border Patrol Agent George Rangel as the secondary pursuer. Hidalgo County Sheriff's Deputy Lyle Pogue was identified as the initial pursuer. Gene Allen Francis is listed as the only decedent.


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