Monday, August 8, 2011

Border agents killed by train: Investigation sheds light on case

Hector Clark (left) and Eduardo Rojas. Hector Clark (left) and Eduardo Rojas.

by JJ Hensley

The two U.S. Border Patrol agents killed in May when their SUV collided with a train were nearing the end of an overnight search for drug smugglers and were likely confused by a train stopped on the tracks near where a 4,600-ton locomotive smashed into their vehicle, according to an investigation into the fatal wreck released Monday.

Hector Clark, 39, who was driving the blue Chevrolet Tahoe, also could have been momentarily blinded by the sun's position in the early morning hours of May 12, which could have prevented the agents from seeing the train as it moved westbound at 62 mph.

Clark and his passenger, 34-year-old Eduardo Rojas, were pronounced dead at the scene.

The train's engineer told investigators that the SUV appeared to be traveling slowly- 3-to-4 mph- when he first saw the agents and he did not think they were going to try to cross the tracks because they were driving so slowly.

The engineer said it wasn't until the SUV was in front of the train that he realized they were trying to cross the tracks at which point he laid on the horn and slammed on the brakes.

"I don't know why he (driver) didn't see us," the engineer told investigators.

Investigators do not believe the agents were trying to beat the train across the tracks but were instead attempting to gain high ground in their ongoing search for a group of drug smugglers a lookout had spotted the night before.

Authorities arrested eight men near the site of the wreck that morning on suspicion of smuggling marijuana based on evidence found in their vicinity, including seven packs containing more than 300 pounds of pot.
The suspects remain in jail with trials scheduled to begin in October.

The agents were among a group of law-enforcement officers working on a task force to intercept drug loads in an area south of Interstate 8 where smugglers walking drug loads through the desert meet up with vehicles that take the drugs into the Phoenix metro area.

Maricopa County Sheriff's Office investigated this incident.