On Monday morning, Deputy Marissa Valdez with the Atascosa County Precinct 3 Constable’s Office conducted a traffic stop on a white Ford F350 pulling a 16-20 foot trailer full of lumber just outside of Poteet on Hwy. 16. As a result, 16 victims of human smuggling were located under the construction material.
Deputy Valdez was driving southbound on Hwy. 16 when the truck going northbound swerved into her lane.
“I thought to myself, something could be wrong here, so I turned around to check it out,” she said, noting that the truck was driving quite slow and took a while to pull over.
Following protocol and using the extensive training she’d been through, Deputy Valdez conducted a roadside interview with the driver of the truck.
“When he said he didn’t have a license, I asked him to step out of the truck and come with me to my vehicle where I ran his name through the system.”
Deputy Valdez learned the driver was a known gang member, but he denied having any affiliation at the present.
“He said he was coming from Hebbronville near Laredo and was transporting some lumber to San Antonio, but didn’t know where exactly. As our conversation continued, he started letting things slip and I could tell something didn’t add up. I decided to call for backup and conduct a search.”
Atascosa County Sheriff’s Deputy and K-9 Handler, Daniel Kaufman showed up for assistance to conduct a drug search with K-9 Gerben.
“[Gerben] responded to multiple spots around the trailer and we knew something was up,” said Deputy Valdez who, along with Deputy Kaufman, escorted the truck back to the parking lot of the Atascosa County Sheriff’s Office in Jourdanton.
Precinct 3 Chief Deputy Phillip Bosquez along with investigators from the sheriff’s office showed up on the scene to help investigate.
All of a sudden, law enforcement heard a knocking coming from under the lumber on the trailer and people yelling for help.
After removing the cables and tarp on top of the lumber, and a few pieces of lumber, 16 young adults over the age of 18 came out from the trailer. Of those 16 were four females.
Together, deputies of the Atascosa County Sheriff’s Office, Constable’s Office and EMS provided water, food and medical attention to the victims. Two of the females were transported to Methodist Hospital South where they were treated for severe dehydration. All 16 victims were released to Border Patrol where they will conduct an investigation. The driver of the truck is in custody and could be facing possible federal smuggling charges.
“I am very proud of Deputy Valdez for what she did. Had she decided to just let the driver carry on, who knows what could have happened,” said Precinct 3 Constable Rick Luna.
Deputy Valdez credits the training Constable Luna has all of his deputies go through.
“The training we go through really does pay off in the end. You never know when you’re going to use it,” she said. “I also could not have done this without Deputy Kaufman. He always has my back out there.”
Constable Luna would like to thank Deputy Valdez, Deputy Kaufman, K-9 Gerben, the Atascosa County Sheriff’s Office, EMS, Methodist Hospital South, Border Patrol and all law enforcement officials who helped with this case.
“This could have been much worse, but with proactive police work we feel 16 lives were saved today from untold trauma.”