Topeka The driver of a crowded minivan that crashed and killed three people in western Kansas was charged Friday with transporting an illegal immigrant.
U.S. Atty. Jackie Williams charged Fernando Garcia-Huerta, 56, also known as Damiau Garcia, of Puebla, Mexico, with one count of transporting an illegal immigrant. Huerta was arrested Friday and will appear before a U.S. magistrate Monday.
Huerta was the driver of the van carrying 15 people that was eastbound Monday morning when it veered into the median and into the westbound lanes of Interstate 70 east of Russell.
The van rolled over several times and landed on its wheels, but 13 of the occupants were thrown out.
The van, registered in the New York City suburb of Yonkers, was designed for seven to nine passengers.
An affidavit filed in federal court in Wichita alleges that Huerta was smuggling illegal immigrants from Mexico into the United States, Williams said.
The affidavit states that a passenger in the van, Lidia Maria Rojas-Catzin, told the Immigration and Naturalization Service that Huerta agreed to smuggle her and others across the Mexico-U.S. border.
Huerta and the others attempted to cross the border several times but were caught by the U.S. Border Patrol and returned to Mexico, Williams said. They eventually crossed the border and made their way to Phoenix, where Huerta loaded them in his van and headed north.
The affidavit alleges Rojas-Catzin paid Huerta approximately $800 for getting her across the border.
If convicted, Huerta faces up to five years in prison.
A Kansas Highway Patrol investigator said Thursday that he would recommend that additional charges of vehicular homicide be filed against Huerta.
Trooper Tod Hileman said interviews with passengers indicate Huerta fell asleep when the van veered off the road. Two bottles of an over-the-counter stimulant were found in the van.
Russell County Attorney Daniel Krug said Friday that he had not received the final reports from the highway patrol. He does not expect to file charges, if any, until the middle of next week at the earliest.