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Immigration
Court documents: Immigrants feared death in tractor-trailer found near Ganado
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Immigrants told authorities they thought they were going to die while riding in a tractor-trailer found near Ganado last week, according to court documents accusing the driver of human smuggling.

“It was hot like fire. We couldn’t breathe. We were all going to die,” Ruben Oriana-Munroy, of Guatemala, said in the federal court documents.

“Before the trailer door was finally opened, (Leyda Roxana Berdua-Agustin, also of Guatemala) had begun choking and felt as if she was dying,” according to the court documents.

Codi Denise Hartman, who has a driver’s license listed in Nixon, is accused of knowingly transporting immigrants in the back of a tractor-trailer that was found by a state trooper along the side of U.S. 59 about 2 miles northeast of Ganado on May 6.

According to court documents filed on May 8 accusing Hartman of a federal crime, the immigrants said they endured severe heat, low oxygen and dehydration in the back of the stifling tractor-trailer, in which the air-conditioning was broken.

Charging document for Codi Denise Hartman

About 7 a.m. May 6, Trooper Josue Alvarez stopped to assist

the tractor-trailer on the side of the roadway and found its door slight-

ly ajar. According to the immigrants’ statements included in court documents, the trailer was opened only once before being discovered by Alvarez.

When people inside began banging on the doors and walls, Alvarez opened the trailer, and all but about 12 of the immigrants ran in different directions.

As of Tuesday, 69 immigrants had been found, but authorities estimated there were between 70-100.

When asked about the cargo, Hartman told authorities she had never opened the trailer and thought she was carrying energy drinks.

During an interview with authorities, Hartman told investigators she was to be paid $800 to drive the tractor-trailer to Houston. She also said she had been coerced into the job.

But in a voice message found on Hartman’s phone, she was heard saying, “The door was not locked. They would not let me lock it, so I just started driving.”

A separate message found on Hartman’s phone sent to her said, “Look, I’m sorry to bother you a lot but at the next truck stop I need u to stop and back the truck in where no one will see u n open the truck n check on the people make sure there good but check with your own eyes ... But please check on them make sure they breathing.”

Immigrants interviewed in the court documents said they had entered the U.S. by crossing the Rio Grande River. The immigrants whose statements were included in court documents were from Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico and Honduras.

After moving between stash houses, their phones were taken away from them, and they were loaded into the tractor-trailer about midnight.

Hartman said she picked up the tractor-trailer at Love’s Gas Station in Donna, according to documents.

One woman said the trailer was hot when they entered and never had gotten cool. She added no water was offered to them.

Another immigrant said she and others began eating spoiled tomatoes in the trailer in an attempt to gain some moisture.

Another immigrant said after he exited the opened trailer, he fell to his knees because he could not support himself.

All of the immigrants included in the court documents said they were fearful of dying from the extreme conditions.

“Oriana-Munroy stated that he was grateful to law enforcement for saving them because he thought he knew he was about to die,” according to court documents.


Local
Military
Victoria's Field of Honor to pay homage to veterans
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On Saturday, about 400 volunteers from all over took to Parkway Victoria to lend a hand in painting the Field of Honor with 1,600 American flags to give Victorians the all familiar sight.

To Col. Mike Petrash, it wasn’t about the sight that caught his attention but the ones behind the scene who helped make it possible.

“About 90% of those volunteers were 18 years old and under,” Petrash said. What we always like to say is showing the next generation what right and correct looks like.”

This year, the organization has put a flag out for each of the 50 states, Petrash said, something that hasn’t been done before. The Field of Honor is going into its 14th year. Later this month, the 16th Warrior’s Weekend will welcome about 340 soldiers brought from across the country to Victoria, Petrash said.

“And we have people from all over the country from those states that have sponsored the flags.”

Every flag is sponsored by someone in honor of a veteran or current service member, with every flag having a different name. The 340 soldiers who are coming in will all have a flag dedicated to them by a local donor.

Kit MacAvoy / Kit MacAvoy | kmacavoy@vicad.com 

Flags wave in the breeze at the Warrior’s Weekend Field of Honor on Tuesday evening at Parkway Church.

“I’ve seen amazing things happen on that field. I’ve seen veterans just break down and cry when they see a flag that has been posted in their honor,” Petrash said. “We get a lot of veterans, especially Vietnam veterans, who experience a lot of healing because what they see is the honor, and they see the honorable and excellent way that we conduct the flag posting.”

The next upcoming event is the Warrior’s Weekend tribute field setup, which will be at the Port O’Connor Community Center Field at 9 a.m on Saturday.

“They’re going to put up a tribute field. It’s a smaller flag up there, but each flag is put up for every soldier, Marine, sailor and airman that was killed in the global war on terrorism,” Petrash said.

Over 6,000 miniature flags will be put up to honor the service men and women.

The main event is Warrior’s Weekend, May 20 to May 22. The soldiers will arrive in Victoria on May 20 at 2 p.m., and the Warrior’s Weekend XVI Fishing Tournament will be May 21 in Port O’Connor from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. to honor combat veterans.

“Come down to the fishing dock at Froggie’s to see them off and see them well,” Petrash said. “A lot of them come back, and they’re like, ‘Colonel, I don’t care if I catch anything, I’m just going to enjoy myself,’” Petrash said.

Kit MacAvoy / Kit MacAvoy | kmacavoy@vicad.com 

An expanse of flags wave in the wind at the Warrior’s Weekend Field of Honor on Tuesday evening at Parkway Church.

The soldiers will be taken out to the water for a day of fishing and relaxation by volunteer captains and their boats.

“These boat captains are so dedicated. We have hundreds of boat captains, and we still need some more,” Petrash said.

Captains who wish to volunteer their time and boat can sign up on the website at warriorsweekend.org.

“The field hits these guys on a deep spiritual level. I don’t know how to explain it other than that when they come out. The emotion they experience is healing,” Petrash said. “That’s what (Field of Honor) means to me. It’s healing.”

What Warrior's Weekend does for me

In 1971, I was flying out of San Francisco International Airport. I had been in the Vietnam War recently and had learned to always look up; the VC would put trip lines just above eye level that would set off booby traps.


Crime
top story
Technology
Victoria County Sheriff's Office launches app to connect with public, submit crime tips
  • Updated

The Victoria County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday the launching of a new app available to residents who wish to receive information or communicate with the agency.

The app can be found by searching “Victoria County Sheriff” in any app store application such as Google Play or Apple’s App Store.

Sheriff Justin Marr said the application was finalized last week and is available now.

Anyone using the app can submit crime tips, find out what is happening live or report anything important.

They can also commend a deputy.

The quicker authorities can respond to tips, the quicker they can help.

Chief Deputy Will Franklin stressed the importance of a link to the public amid an ongoing spike in human trafficking, such as the recent incident in Ganado.

“We’re expecting to see a big uptick. We’re expecting to see what happened in Jackson County happen here,” Franklin said.

Deputies welcome tips involving undocumented immigration and other crimes to the app.


Crime
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Public Safety
DEA unveils new fentanyl awareness billboard campaign in five Crossroads cities
  • Updated

The use of fentanyl, an opioid 100 times stronger than morphine and far more deadly, is on the rise in the Crossroads.

“It only takes 2 mg to kill you. That’s the size of the head of a pencil,” DEA Special Agent in Charge Richard T. Sanchez said at a news conference Wednesday.

It is used by illicit drug manufacturers to make other drugs, such as meth, more potent. Many users are unaware of the presence of the killer substance, according to Tree House Recovery of California.

About 11 a.m., local, state and federal law enforcement officials held a presentation at the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office debuting a new public awareness “One Pill Can Kill” campaign to combat the “devastating impact” of fentanyl in Crossroads communities. The campaign will include awareness billboards in Victoria, Cuero, Goliad, Port Lavaca and Ganado.

tdiaz / Tamara Diaz | tdiaz@vicad.com 

Sheriff Justin Marr, center, hosted a news conference to describe the "One Pill Can Kill" billboard campaign, highlighting the dangers of illicit fentanyl use.

The sale and use of illicit fentanyl has taken hold in the Crossroads area, Sanchez said.

“Numbers don’t lie. Within the Houston division within the last six months, we’ve seen an increase of up to 60% in seizures,” Sanchez said.

In response, the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office has partnered with the Drug Enforcement Administration and other programs to launch a fentanyl awareness campaign, including billboards throughout the area. The physical billboards are scheduled to be up in the next few weeks. The digital billboards, which will appear at 15 locations in Victoria for 10 seconds at a time, were up as of Wednesday.

Two billboards will be located in Victoria with one at North Navarro Street just south of Business 59 and another at South Laurent Street just south of East Santa Rosa Street. One will be located in Cuero on U.S. 59 about 0.6 miles south of SH 72. Another will be in Goliad on U.S. 59 about 0.25 miles east of Wright Street. In Port Lavaca, there will be one at SH 35 about 0.75 miles west of the causeway bridge and another in Ganado on County Road 710 just north of U.S. 59.

The billboard campaign is the result of a partnership between officials from the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office, Houston High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, Drug Enforcement Administration, Texas A&M University Opioid Task Force and Billy T. Cattan Recovery Center in Victoria.

The billboards feature the photo of a Ian Mackay, 19, who died of a fentanyl overdose from a single pill laced with the drug. Beneath the photo, viewers will find phone numbers for addiction recovery services.

“We hope a quick glance at these billboards will start off conversations and enhance our enforcement operations in the area,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez added that fentanyl is manufactured in labs in Mexico and delivered illegally to the Crossroads.

Texas A&M Opioid Task Force Project Coordinator Charles Boswell said that the Golden Crescent Regional Recovery Initiative will host a Substance Use Disorder Symposium May 25-26 at the Victoria Community Center.

The symposium will focus on harm reduction tools, including treatment and prevention. The event is free to attend.


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