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On April 6, 2022 a southern California boat captain identified as Antonio Hurtado pled guilty to charges stemming from a May 2, 2021, maritime smuggling incident in which 3 people aboard the boat he was piloting died in Imperial Beach, CA. 32 illegal immigrants were on the boat when it sank.

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Captain Hurtado admitted that he piloted a boat from Mexico into the United States. Aboard the boat were 32 illegal immigrants who had agreed to pay between $15,000 and $18,000 each to be brought into the United States illegally, including three unaccompanied minors.

Captain Hurtado admitted in his plea agreement that during the journey, he repeatedly used controlled substances, to the point that he lost consciousness on at least one occasion, and the boat drove in circles for more than an hour until the other people on board were able to wake him.

At approximately 6:00 a.m., the boat suffered engine failure, and the defendant was unable to restart the engine. The weather conditions that morning were rainy with large ocean waves, and the boat began to drift toward land until it ran aground approximately 50 yards from shore near the Point Loma tide pools.

As the boat was struck by waves and began to list on its side, the defendant jumped into the water and made his way to shore, abandoning the boat and its 32 occupants. The boat quickly broke apart from the pounding of the surf, sending the individuals on board – almost all of whom had been hiding below deck and in the cabin at the defendant’s direction – into the cold and rough water.

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Personnel with the National Park Service, along with many civilians who were in the area, immediately began trying to help, and various agencies immediately responded to conduct a massive rescue operation.

Unfortunately, 3 of the individuals – identified as Mexican citizens Maricela Hernandez-Sanchez, Victor Perez-Degollado, and Maria Eugenia Chavez-Segovia – died as a result of this incident.

After he was identified as the pilot of the vessel, Captain Hurtado was taken to a local hospital for treatment and then transported to the Imperial Beach Border Patrol Station for processing. Captain Hurtado admitted that while there, he assaulted a Border Patrol agent by striking the agent in the head with his knee while the agent was attempting to apply an ankle restraint.

The defendant pleaded guilty to three counts of attempted bringing in illegal aliens resulting in death, three counts of attempted bringing in illegal aliens for financial gain, and one count of assault on a federal officer.

Captain Hurtado is scheduled to be sentenced July 1, 2022 at 9 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Janis L. Sammartino.