San Diego, California - Vicente Villegas of Riverside appeared in federal court today in connection with charges that he fled a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint at high speed during a smuggling incident in which he was allegedly driving a recreational vehicle with undocumented immigrants aboard.
At today’s hearing, Villegas was ordered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym to remain in custody without bond on grounds that he is a flight risk and a danger to the community.
According to the complaint, in the early morning hours of December 12, 2020, Border Patrol agents observed a large group of undocumented immigrants cross the U.S.-Mexican border in an area known to agents as “Second Breaks.” The agents saw the group of about 40 people climb into the RV.
Border Patrol agents attempted to conduct a traffic stop on the RV near Old Highway 80 and Highway 94. According to the complaint, Villegas failed to yield to a Border Patrol vehicle displaying lights and sirens and accelerated to 70 miles per hour as he merged onto westbound Interstate 8. Agents on duty at the Border Patrol Checkpoint located in Pine Valley, California were notified of the ongoing pursuit and received authorization to use a spike strip to stop the RV at the Checkpoint.
As the RV approached the Checkpoint, the agent on duty deployed the spike strip, and the RV swerved from the primary traffic lanes, drove around the primary position and through the dirt parking lot. Villegas drove back onto the Interstate at the west end of the Checkpoint, effectively evading all spike positions. Pursuing agents followed the RV for two and half hours as it continued west on Interstate 8, west on State Route 52, and north on Interstate 15. At approximately, 5:19 a.m. Border Patrol agents terminated the pursuit of the RV.
Agents were later able to trace the RV to Villegas, the complaint said. The agents were able to retrieve from cell phones what are believed to be photos and videos taken by Villegas during the pursuit.
The complaint said the RV had been purchased by Villegas and another person on December 2, 2020 for $13,000. Villegas provided his California Identification Card as a form of identification for the sale. The previous RV owner observed Villegas drive the RV away from his home.
“Smugglers think nothing of putting their passengers in grave danger in order to escape law enforcement and make money,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Grossman. “We are determined to preserve public safety and achieve justice.” Grossman praised prosecutor Tim Coughlin and U.S. Border Patrol agents who tracked down this defendant through dogged investigation.
“The actions taken by the driver of the RV in this incident endangered not only the lives of the migrants being smuggled, but also the general public and our agents,” said San Diego Sector Border Patrol Chief Aaron M. Heitke, “I am proud of the dedication and persistence of our agents. This arrest is a direct result of their efforts.”
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U. S. Attorney Timothy D. Coughlin.
DEFENDANT Case Number 21mj1273-MDD
Vicente Villegas Age: 20 Riverside, CA
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
High Speed Flight from an Immigration Checkpoint – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 758
Maximum penalty: Five years of imprisonment and $250,000 fine
United States Border Patrol, San Diego Sector Intelligence Unit
*The charges and allegations contained in an indictment or complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.