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Charges filed against man accused of being boat captain in deadly smuggling wreck off Point Loma

Debris is littered along the shoreline off Cabrillo National Monument on May 2.
Debris litters the shoreline off Cabrillo National Monument on May 2. Three people were dead and more than two dozen injured after a boat overturned.
(Sandy Huffaker)

Passengers said they paid $15,000 to $18,000 to be smuggled into the United States on the boat, according to an affidavit.

A man accused of piloting a crowded boat that crashed into a reef off Point Loma and broke apart in a human smuggling attempt in which three people died was charged in federal court in San Diego, according to a complaint filed May 5.

Antonio Hurtado, 39, faces charges of attempting to bring in undocumented migrants at a place other than a port of entry and assault on a federal officer, both felonies. He appeared in court via video May 6 but did not enter a plea. A detention hearing is set for Tuesday, May 11, to determine whether he should be granted bail.

A search warrant affidavit filed in federal court said several of the 29 survivors of the May 2 crash identified Hurtado in a photo lineup as the captain of the vessel. He was treated at a hospital and turned over to border authorities.

According to the affidavit, Hurtado “deliberately” struck an agent in the head with his knee as the agent tried to secure a shackle around Hurtado’s right ankle while he was in custody of the Border Patrol at the Imperial Beach station.

Agents seized a cellphone, as well as a memory card and SIM card, from Hurtado and asked a judge for permission to search their contents for evidence related to the smuggling case.

Hurtado’s age, city of residence and citizenship status were not disclosed in court documents. Authorities previously said the person suspected of being the captain is a U.S. citizen.

The judge appointed an attorney to represent Hurtado after finding that he likely could not afford one on his own. A lawyer from Federal
Defenders of San Diego said Hurtado had been unemployed for over a year, had no substantial assets and was responsible for supporting his wife.

All three of the passengers killed — Victor Perez Degollado, 29; Maria Eugenia Chavez Segovia, 41; and Maricela Hernandez Sanchez, 35 — drowned, with blunt force head injuries contributing to their deaths, according to the San Diego County medical examiner’s office.

Chavez Segovia also suffered blunt force chest injuries.

Perez Degollado and Hernandez Sanchez died at the scene. Chavez Segovia died at UC San Diego Medical Center. All three lived in Mexico, the medical examiner’s office said.

Authorities previously indicated the number of fatalities incorrectly. Three people were killed, not four.

The passengers were packed onto a 40-foot trawler-style boat that was caught in rough waters about 10 a.m. May 2. Waves wrecked the boat, splintering it into pieces off the Cabrillo National Monument tide pools.

At least three people were killed and more than two dozen were injured May 2 when an overloaded boat crashed into a reef and broke apart in rough water off Point Loma in what authorities said was a human smuggling attempt.

Two men remained hospitalized May 4, including one with critical injuries, according to the affidavit, written by a Homeland Security Investigations agent.

In interviews with authorities, the rest of the passengers said they paid $15,000 to $18,000 to be smuggled into the United States on the boat, according to the affidavit.

The passengers are from Mexico, except for one man from Guatemala. Three have been identified as juveniles — a girl, 14, and two boys, 15 and 17.

The survivors are being held as material witnesses in the prosecution. The teenagers are expected to be released to family or sponsors in the United States.

The violent crash unfolded in front of families at the tide pools.

“It was absolutely horrific,” said Assemblyman Chris Ward, who was at the tide pools with his 7-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.

Ward said he didn’t think much of the boat initially; he assumed it was an anchored fishing boat that got a little too close to the shore.

Another witness, Rustin Brown, a former Navy sailor, said the boat appeared abandoned at first. It wasn’t until the boat tore apart that many passengers were exposed, Brown said.

Before lifeguards arrived, several witnesses, including Brown and a Navy air crewman, Cale Foy, helped rescue passengers.

When lifeguards arrived on boats and personal watercraft, they pulled seven people from the water. Another person was hoisted up a cliff.


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