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The man at the helm of a smuggling boat that capsized off Point Loma, ending in the deaths of three migrants, pleaded guilty in San Diego federal court Wednesday to his role in the tragedy.
Antonio Hurtado, a 40-year-old U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty to felony charges of attempted human smuggling resulting in death and attempted human smuggling for financial gain relating to each of the migrants who died.
The plea comes one month before the case was set to go to trial.
Hurtado was trying to smuggle 32 migrants into the U.S. aboard his black 40-foot trawler-style boat, the Salty Lady, when the wreck occurred May 2 about 50 feet off Point Loma. It was mid-morning on a Sunday, and sightseers at Cabrillo National Monument watched the boat capsize in horror.
The seas were rough that morning, and earlier in the journey Hurtado had dropped anchor in an apparent attempt to steady the overloaded boat, one passenger told Reuters. After several hours, Hurtado tried to lift the anchor but struggled, and the passenger told Reuters that he leaned over and cut the anchor rope or chain with a saw.
Hurtado then tried to get back underway, but the motor died, according to the passenger. That’s when the boat ran aground and capsized.
Hurtado and the passengers went into the water, sparking a rescue effort by bystanders and lifeguards. Three Mexican migrants suffered blunt-force trauma and drowned: Victor Perez Degollado, 29; Maria Eugenia Chavez Segovia, 41; and Maricela Hernandez Sanchez, 35.
The survivors told authorities they had paid $15,000 to $18,000 to be smuggled into the U.S. and identified Hurtado as the pilot of the boat, according to the criminal complaint.
Hurtado, who struggled with drug addiction, was in debt and promising people that he would be paying them off just days before the wreck, acquaintances told the Union-Tribune. He lived on the boat at the Zuñiga Jetty Shoal, an unofficial long-term anchorage for liveaboard boaters outside the mouth of San Diego Bay.
Hurtado also pleaded guilty to assault on a federal officer, admitting to kneeing a Border Patrol agent in the head while shackles were being placed on an ankle during his arrest.
Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com