A driver who allegedly fled from Border Patrol agents in an RV filled with undocumented immigrants made his initial court appearance Thursday.
Vicente Villegas, 20, of Riverside faces federal charges of high-speed flight from an immigration checkpoint for allegedly leading agents on a lengthy pursuit in the early morning hours of Dec. 12.
Agents chased him for about two-and-a-half hours on Interstate 8, state Route 52 and Interstate 15 before terminating the pursuit, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Border Patrol agents initially saw about 40 people climb into the RV after it crossed the U.S.- Mexico border.
Agents later tried to stop the RV near Old Highway 80 and Highway 94, but Villegas allegedly sped off onto I-8 at about 70 mph, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Though a spike strip was laid in the road at a Pine Valley checkpoint to stop the RV, prosecutors say Villegas swerved around it.
The RV was later traced to Villegas, who bought it for $13,000 from its previous owner, while providing his California ID to the owner, prosecutors allege.
According to court documents, authorities took Villegas into custody two days after the pursuit on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Agents searched phones seized from him during that arrest and discovered photographs and videos allegedly placing him in the driver’s seat of the RV on the day of the pursuit.
“The actions taken by the driver of the RV in this incident endangered not only the lives of the migrants being smuggled, but also the general public and our agents,” said San Diego Sector Border Patrol Chief Aaron M. Heitke.