A man who was operating a panga boat carrying several undocumented immigrants when it capsized off the coast of southern San Diego County earlier this year, killing two men aboard, was sentenced Monday to nearly seven years in federal prison.
Julio Cesar Murillo-Arce, 42, pleaded guilty earlier this year to federal charges stemming from the Feb. 3 boating accident off the coast of Imperial Beach.
He was sentenced to 78 months in prison in connection with the boat fatalities, and an additional five months for violating the terms of his supervised release stemming from a separate maritime alien smuggling conviction last year, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
According to court papers, Border Patrol agents spotted the boat in the early morning hours of Feb. 3. It began experiencing engine trouble about 150 yards off the coast, prosecutors said, then eventually became inoperable.
Prosecutors say Murillo-Arce told the others aboard not to identify him as the boat’s captain, then dove into the water.
The boat was capsized by a large wave, sending all six occupants into the sea. Four were able to make it to shore, but Ramon Ponce-Rodriguez and Modesto Rodriguez-Ballesteros did not.
Ponce-Rodriguez was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital, while Rodriguez-Ballesteros was initially hospitalized in critical condition and died Feb. 4.
The surviving occupants of the boat told investigators that the boat’s captain abandoned the vessel and swam away, despite being told some of the people aboard could not swim. The boat’s occupants — or someone else on their behalf — paid between $10,000 to $13,500 each to be smuggled into the United States from Mexico, according to the criminal complaint.
“This is yet another tragedy that never should have happened,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “This defendant and others like him care only about their bank accounts and their own safety. Because of his callous disregard for the passengers he attempted to smuggle, two lives were lost.”
— City News Service