The victims hit by the vehicle were waiting for the bus to return to downtown Brownsville after spending the night in overnight shelter.
BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Police identified the man accused of crashing his car into a crowd of migrants waiting for a bus Sunday outside a shelter in a Texas border town, and prosecutors charged him with 18 counts of counts, including eight counts of manslaughter, in connection with the fatal crash.
Police said 34-year-old George Alvarez was the driver of the vehicle involved in the crash. Brownsville Police Chief Felix Sauceda told reporters at a news conference Monday that Alvarez had an extensive “criminal record” prior to the incident.
“The SUV ran a red light, lost control, flipped onto its side (and crashed into the crowd),” Sauceda said.
Sauceda said investigators have not determined whether Alvarez intended to hit people waiting for the bus.
He was charged with eight counts of manslaughter and ten counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, Sauceda confirmed, adding that the charges could be changed or added as the investigation continues.
Toxicology reports on Alvarez are pending and Sauceda declined to comment on whether he appeared intoxicated after the crash.
He confirmed reports that Alvarez attempted to flee the scene after his SUV overturned. But several people nearby held Alvarez down until police arrived at the scene.
Eight people died and at least 10 others were injured, police said.
With no bench at the unmarked city bus stop, some of the victims were sitting on the sidewalk around 8:30 when the driver ran them over, surveillance video from the Bishop Enrique San Pedro Ozanam Center showed. Brownsville Police Investigator Martin Sandoval, who confirmed the latest death Sunday night, said police did not know if the collision was intentional.
Shelter director Victor Maldonado said the SUV hit the sidewalk, flipped over and continued to move for about 200 feet (60 meters). Some people walking on the sidewalk about 30 feet from the main group were also affected, Maldonado said. Witnesses arrested the driver as he tried to flee and held him until police arrived, he said.
“This SUV, a Range Rover, just turned on the light that was about 100 feet (30 meters) away and it just went right through the people who were sitting there at the bus stop,” said Maldonado, who reviewed the shelter surveillance video.
Victims struck by the vehicle were waiting for the bus to return to downtown Brownsville after spending the night at the overnight shelter, said Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
Most of the victims were Venezuelan men, Maldonado said. Brownsville has seen a surge in Venezuelan migrants in the past two weeks for unclear reasons, authorities said. On Thursday, 4,000 of the approximately 6,000 migrants detained by Border Patrol in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley were Venezuelans.
The driver was taken to the hospital for his injuries when the car overturned, Sandoval said. There were no passengers in the car and police did not immediately know the name or age of the driver, Sandoval said Sunday afternoon.
Sandoval said there are three possible explanations for the collision: “It could be intoxication; it could be an accident; or it could be intentional. In order for us to find out exactly what happened, we need to eliminate the other two.
“He is very uncooperative in the hospital, but he will be transported to our city jail as soon as he is released,” Sandoval said. real identity”.
Police recovered a blood sample and sent it to a Texas Department of Public Safety laboratory to be tested for intoxicants.
Rising migrant numbers this week prompted Brownsville commissioners to extend an emergency declaration indefinitely during a special meeting on Thursday.
“We don’t want them hanging out outside,” Pedro Cardenas, a city commissioner, said after the crash Sunday. go out and look elsewhere”.
Brownsville has long been an epicenter for migration across the U.S.-Mexico border and has become a key focus for next week’s end to pandemic-era border restrictions known as Title 42. The Ozanam Shelter is the only overnight shelter in the city and handles the release of thousands of migrants from federal custody.
Maldonado said the center had not received any threats before the incident but did after.
“I’ve had a couple of people come through the gate and tell the security guard that the reason this happened was because of us,” Maldonado said.
About 2,500 migrants have crossed the river each day into Brownsville in recent days, Cardenas said. He said the Border Patrol is aware of the city’s capacity of 1,000 in their processing area near the crossing point and in a downtown building where city employees and volunteers guide migrants on how to purchase bus tickets. or of the aircraft to their final destinations. The city is considering expanding services to meet needs in the coming days, Cardenas said.
While 80 percent of people released from federal custody leave the same day, the city’s emergency management official said, a bottleneck has built up in recent days.
“Most of the people who come don’t want to stay in Brownsville, but we don’t have enough buses to buy a ticket to leave,” Cardenas said. “Some are waiting for family members.”
The Ozanam shelter can accommodate 250 people, but many who arrive leave the same day. In recent weeks, an increase in border crossings has prompted the city to declare an emergency as local, state and federal resources coordinate enforcement and humanitarian response.
“In the past two months, we’ve received 250 to 380 a day,” Maldonado said.
Although the shelter offers transport for migrants during the week, it also uses the city’s public transport.
Rochelle Garza, chair of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said in a statement shared Sunday afternoon, “I hope today serves as a wake-up call and that state officials begin investing in a humanitarian response that may have helped those who were affected. since this morning’s tragedy”.
U.S. Representative Vicente González said Sunday that local officials are in communication with the federal government regarding the incident.
“We are all extremely sad and heartbroken to have such a tragedy in our neighborhood,” he said.
Valerie Gonzalez reported from McAllen, Texas. Travis Loller contributed to this report from Nashville, Tennessee.