Glenwood Springs van crash may lead to smuggling charges |

Glenwood Springs van crash may lead to smuggling charges

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Police are investigating whether a man who crashed a van on Interstate 70 Sunday was transporting illegal immigrants for profit.

Glenwood Springs police responded to an accident reported at 7:43 a.m. Sunday between downtown and West Glenwood Springs. A van had apparently hit some slush on the edge of the road, traveled into the median and flipped, said Police Chief Terry Wilson.

About 10 Hispanic male passengers from the van were taken to hospitals in Glenwood Springs and Rifle, Wilson said. Two remained in critical condition and two were in stable condition as of Monday afternoon, he added. The others were treated for minor injuries.

“The case at this point is still under investigation for the possibility of human smuggling,” Wilson said. “We feel that the driver of the vehicle may have been transporting illegal aliens to other parts of the country.”

The driver, Alvaro Sales Jacinto, 28, was arrested Sunday on suspicion of careless driving causing serious bodily injury, driving without a valid license and failure to provide immediate proof of insurance, Wilson said, but police are still deciding whether or not Sales Jacinto will be charged with human smuggling.

Wilson said Sales Jacinto said he was from Denver.

“He didn’t know where in Denver and said he was heading for Pennsylvania,” Wilson said.

This would become the first time the Glenwood Springs Police Department has charged anyone under the felony human smuggling statute. The law came into effect in 2006 and targets people who transport illegal immigrants for profit.

“The big change occurred in that it became a state law applicable to municipal and state agencies,” Wilson said. “The difficulty for us is determining what is going to be required in the eyes of the courts to be able to successfully prosecute these cases.”

Wilson said working with the human smuggling statute will definitely be a learning experience.

“You really don’t know about very different laws like this until they’ve been around for a while and they’ve been run through the court process,” Wilson said. “It’s something we deal with when the Legislature comes up with something new.”

Someone can be charged with one count of human smuggling for each illegal immigrant they transport, Wilson added, but the statute doesn’t allow police to deal with people they believe are here illegally.

“It does not give us any kind of a charging authority against parties that we believe to be in the country illegally,” Wilson said.

Instead, local law enforcement notifies Immigration and Customs Enforcement of suspected illegal immigrants whenever possible.

An estimated 15,000 to 18,000 illegal immigrants are trafficked in the U.S. each year. On average, the Colorado State Patrol contacts more than 500 illegal immigrants a week, or about 26,000 annually, according to the patrol’s website.