SAN DIEGO — A truck driver was charged Tuesday in San Diego in connection with the deaths of three Chinese migrants -- including a woman and her 15-year-old son -- whose bodies were found inside the trunk of his car two days after he crossed the border into the United States.
Neil Edwin Valera, a 50-year-old U.S. citizen who lives in Tijuana and is from El Paso, Texas, is accused of bringing the migrants through the San Ysidro Port of Entry in the trunk of his 1999 BMW, which San Diego police found parked in a residential neighborhood on Aug. 11.
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SDPD officers responded to a report of "a foul odor and blood dripping" from the car, which was parked near the 2100 block of Jamie Avenue. A witness first noticed the silver vehicle, which had a Texas license plate, on Aug. 9, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Officers found two dead females and a male -- later identified as the teenage son of one of the decedents -- in the trunk of the car.
Prosecutors say video footage shows the BMW -- which was registered to Valera -- crossing into the U.S. on Aug. 9. He also crossed the border on other occasions after Aug. 9, but kept to crossing on foot through the pedestrian lanes, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Valera, who was arrested Saturday at a downtown bus station, is charged with encouraging aliens to enter resulting in death -- which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison or death and a $250,000 fine -- and bringing in aliens without presentation for financial gain, which could bring a sentence ranging from three to 15 years in prison.
"These tragic cases are grim reminders that attempting to cross into the United States illegally in the trunk of a car -- and putting your faith, hope and future in the hands of smugglers -- is extremely dangerous," U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer said.