- Date of Crime: 2004-10-16
- Location of crime:
- Hometown: Huachuca City, AZ
- Sex: M
- Age: 74
- Sex: M
- Age: 21
- Arrest Status: convicted
On October 16, 2004 James Lee, 74, and Emilia Lee, 71, of Huachuca City were killed when a Ford F-350 pickup loaded with illegal aliens went out of control and hit their vehicle near Sierra Vista Arizona.
James and Emilia had been married just six weeks earlier.
According to the Cochise County Sheriff department, deputies first spotted the truck near the Huachuca Mountains, in an area commonly used for loading contraband and illegal immigrants.
The Sheriffé─˘s deputy initiated a mobile surveillance of the Ford F-350, requesting the license plate information from dispatch. The Ford F-350 came back as reported stolen. A traffic stop was subsequently attempted on the pickup truck; however, the driver refused to yield to the sheriffé─˘s lights and sirens.
They chased the vehicle, but broke off the pursuit before the accident, when the suspect drove away recklessly, sheriff's spokeswoman Carol Capas said. Subsequently, the truck's driver lost control after swerving at a spot where Sierra Vista police had placed tire deflation spikes.
The Ford F350 ran a stop sign, hit a median and then slammed into a line of nine vehicles waiting for a turn light near Fort Huachuca, just outside of Sierra Vista, Arizona.
The carnage was massive. Seventeen people were in the pick up. Eleven in the bed of the pick-up truck were ejected. Altogether, at least 25 people were involved in the crash.
Five people, Maria Del Pilar Hernandez-Espinoza, Mauro Guadalupe Macedas-Hernandez, and Eric Sanchez-Dominguez, all citizens of Mexico, and United States Citizens James and Emilia Guthrie Lee, were all pronounced dead on the scene.
One occupant, Issac Espejo, was severely injured, and died after returning to Mexico, as a result of his injuries
Other individuals received medical attention on the scene and were transported to medical
facilities throughout Arizona via helicopter and ambulance. Of the 15 seriously injured, one person was on life support and six were in critical but stable condition, officials said. In addition to the deaths, Arizbeth Barbara Rincon-Esteban, lost her unborn child as a result of her injuries, two suffered brain injuries, and one is paralyzed in three limbs.
On December 10, 2004, Valle Martinez, 21, of Honduras and Carlos Cortez, 29, of Mexico were charged with transporting illegal aliens resulting in death.
At the trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Ferraro told jurors Valle Martinez, the driver, was doing everything he could to get to Arizona 83, mistakenly believing authorities would stop chasing him if he got that far. The crash happened at Arizona 90 and Buffalo Soldier Trail, 20 miles shy of the highway.
"A complete and total disregard for human life is why we're here today," Ferraro told jurors. "These defendants were willing to put many, many people's lives at risk just to make a buck."
Martinez, and Cortez were convicted Friday on 15 federal charges, including conspiracy to smuggle in and transport illegal aliens for profit. The jury also found that Jose Luis Zepeda-Cruz, 25, and Jimir Valle-Martinez, 22, entered into the conspiracy for money, knowingly placed people's lives in jeopardy, caused serious bodily injury to a number of victims and caused the five deaths.
In February 2006, Valle Martinez, 23, of Honduras, was sentenced to 420 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins.
James and Emilia Lee had been planning a fishing trip to Mexico with relatives of the combined families. James and Emilia were known as neighborly, never hesitating to reach out to help. James often helped out when someone needed a home repair done, and Emilia was an active volunteer for her church. Nearly 300 friends and family attended the services for the Lees held October 21, 2004.
Joe Lee said his father was the type of person who reached out to help others. On more than one occasion, his dad would help a neighbor do home repairs. Most times, the person being helped was younger than his father, who was 75. Joe said, "His life changed when he met her (Emilia)."
Tony spoke about the way his mother helped others and "how much she loved James." Tony said his mother was a person who never hesitated to volunteer, especially when it came to supporting her faith while attending St. Andrew the Apostle Roman Catholic Church.
As much as she helped others in the church, Tony said she didn't hesitate to ask the congregation to pray for her grandson, a Marine who was in Iraq.
Documentation:18OCT04, CBS News
Illegals-Smugglers Crash Kills 6 -Pickup Loses Control At Intersection; Two Victims In Another Car, by Ananda Shorey, AP
22OCT04, The Sierra Vista Herald, Arizona
Family, pastor remember kindness of HC couple who died in accident, by Bill Hess
4FEB06, Arizona Daily Star
Life terms possible for smugglers, by Kim Smith
25SEP05, Office of the United States Attorney, District of Arizona
Press Release: HUMAN SMUGGLER GETS 35 YEARS FOR TRANSPORTING ILLEGAL ALIENS RESULTING IN DEATH