A Yuma County man with a history of disregarding law enforcement officers was sentenced last week to spend the next several years in federal prison for his involvement in a human smuggling conspiracy that led to the death of a Mexican national during a horrific car crash.
Andres Aurelio Urias-Soto will serve eight years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) after pleading guilty to Conspiracy to Transport Illegal Aliens for Profit Resulting in Death. The death occurred in June 2021 as Urias-Soto, a U.S. citizen, fled from authorities near Lukeville at speeds that reached 120 miles per hour.
It is common across southern Arizona for municipal, county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to respond to smuggling incidents in which drivers fail to yield for traffic stops and attempt to outrun police. Many of those crimes are assigned to the special agents assigned to Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
And for the head of HSI Arizona, there is a concern the public will become acclimated to the dangers faced as result of reckless drivers engaged in smuggling activities.
“It’s becoming almost a weekly occurrence that human smuggling activity along the Arizona border resulting in either death or serious bodily injury is reported,” said Scott Brown, special agent in charge for HSI Arizona. “What’s even more concerning is that we aren’t seeing these tragic and often deadly incidents decrease, at all.”
According to Brown, HSI Arizona and their partner agencies are determined to work as a team to combat the transnational criminal organizations engaged in human smuggling activities that pose threats to the public.
“We cannot allow the dangers of human smuggling to turn to ‘white noise,’” Brown told Arizona Daily Independent.
One such investigation led by HSI Arizona involved Urias-Soto, who in 2018 was convicted in Yuma County with unlawful flight from a law enforcement vehicle. He was sentenced in that case to one year in state prison.
In 2019, Urias-Soto received a federal felony conviction for trying to outrun U.S. Border Patrol agents between California and Yuma County. He was sentenced to two years in BOP.
Public records show Urias-Soto was released from custody in April 2021 to begin serving two years of federal supervised release, commonly known as probation. But just two months later, he conspired to transport two Mexican nationals after an aunt offered him an opportunity to “make some money.”
So on June 17, 2021, Urias-Soto drove a Ford Crown Victoria to Lukeville where he picked up F. Rojas-Garcia and his wife Teresa Veronica Vazquez-Hernandez “from the brush” along State Route 85. The couple had illegally crossed into the U.S. from Sonoyta, Sonora hours earlier with the help of a foot guide.
But unknown to any of them, the Ford had been under aerial surveillance long before the couple got into the car. In fact, Urias-Soto garnered the attention of USBP agents by stopping at the pumps of a gas station without getting gas, according to the criminal complaint filed by HSI Arizona.
Once the two Mexicans were in the vehicle, USBP agents attempted for several miles to get the Ford to pull over for a traffic stop. Urias-Soto accelerated instead, with data obtained from the car’s “black-box” revealing the Crown Vic reached speeds of 120 miles per hour while trying to outrun authorities.
USBP agents disengaged from the pursuit due to the dangerous speeds. They then undertook measures to stop the Ford by placing metal spike strips on the roadway in hopes of puncturing the tires and disabling the vehicle.
But Urias-Soto swerved to evade the spikes and left the roadway. When he attempted to get back on the pavement, Urias-Soto lost control of the car, which rolled.
At the time of the swerve, the vehicle was traveling around 109 mph, according to court records. The Ford continued about 530 feet before coming to a stop roughly 50 feet off the roadway.
Urias-Soto was injured when he was ejected from the vehicle. Vazquez-Hernandez was also injured, while Rojas-Garcia succumbed to injuries suffered in the crash.
“That distance, starting from 109 mph to a complete stop, caused the injuries sustained by everyone, and the blunt force trauma that caused the death of the victim,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Arturo Aguilar noted in a sentencing memo.
Aguilar added that Urias-Soto’s “blatant disregard of his previous convictions, his continued violation of the laws and the seriousness of this offense” warranted a maximum 110-month sentence as allowed under federal guidelines.
There was also no question Urias-Soto knowingly committed a new crime while on supervised release, as business cards from the U.S. Probation Office were in his possession when arrested, Aguilar noted.
“Previous sentences did not deter the defendant from participating in this offense,” Aguilar argued. “The public must be aware that those who participate in any role within a smuggling organization face severe consequences.”
U.S. District Judge John C. Hinderaker imposed the eight year sentence for the 2021 deadly crash, slightly less than the maximum. Hinderaker also sentenced Urias-Soto to another five months in BOP in connection with the 2019 case, which will be served after his 2021 sentence.
Once done with prison, Urias-Soto must complete five years of supervised release.