SAN MIGUEL COUNTY – After fleeing on foot from a rollover accident in western San Miguel County on Monday, six people were apprehended by police some 24 hours later, after a lengthy search. Four suspected illegal aliens were taken into custody and one man was arrested on suspected human smuggling charges, according to a San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office press release.
Juan Varenez, 31, of Cuba, is charged with four counts of smuggling humans, which is a Class 3 felony. The four men believed to be illegal aliens are identified as Eric Fernando Cruz Barahona and Gavelo Francisco Miralda Hernandez of Honduras, and Juan Lopez Delgato and Fernando V. Torres of Mexico. Grand Junction resident Sineade Patricia Rodriguez, 20, was also arrested on several outstanding warrants in Mesa County.
The San Miguel County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the report of a rollover accident at milepost 33 along Hwy. 141 on Monday at 10:20 a.m. When officers arrived on scene there were no signs of the vehicle’s occupants.
According to the SMSO press release, passersby reported finding the car rolled over but saw none of the people involved in the accident. One caller said the car was still running and he turned it off. Another motorist reportedly observed a “dark skinned” male walking south along the highway toward Dove Creek. The motorist offered the man, who appeared to have an eye injury, a ride, but the man refused.
A driver's license for Rodriguez was found at the accident scene, from which it was discovered there were several active warrants for her arrest out of Mesa County.
A lengthy foot search for the vehicle occupants ensued, first along the roadway and then on the surrounding steep, rugged terrain. A hunter in the area reported hearing several people speaking Spanish and also noticed tracks, which responders followed during their search. San Miguel County Sheriff’s Commander Eric Berg used his airplane to assist in the search. After following tracks for about three miles, the ground and air search was called off at 6 p.m. due to impending darkness.
The next morning Rodriguez and Varenez were located at The Basin Restaurant in Dry Creek Basin after the owner of the establishment alerted deputies that they were there. After it was determined Varenez was the driver of the wrecked vehicle, he was taken into custody. Rodriguez was transported to the Uncompahgre Medical Center for medical treatment and then transported to the Mesa County Jail.
Later Tuesday morning at about 8:30 a.m., some hunters arriving at the Basin Store reported seeing some men hiding in a nearby culvert. Deputies then observed the four men running from the culvert and were able to apprehend them. All were dressed in thin clothing with no coats and were placed in patrol cars to keep warm. The four men were then identified as Cruz Barahona, Miralda Hernandez, Delgato and Torres.
According to the SMSO report, it is suspected that Varenez was involved in smuggling the four men into or through the U.S. It is unknown at this time the extent of Rodriquez’s involvement in the incident.
When first contacted, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers were reluctant to take the five men into their custody, advising SMSO officers to simply write the driver a traffic ticket and then release the men. They eventually agreed to take the four apparently illegal aliens, but left Varenez in the deputies’ custody. Varenez is currently being held at the San Miguel County Jail, and his bond has been set at $15,000.