Christmas Eve wreck

The Ford Escape driven by Roberto Ramirez wrecked near Kilometer 56 on Interstate 19 in Green Valley.

A man who fired shots at pursuing Border Patrol agents after fleeing the Interstate 19 checkpoint on Christmas Eve 2017 with two undocumented immigrants in his SUV, was sentenced to 17 years in federal prison.

Roberto Ramirez, 23, of Tucson, was sentenced on Jan. 24 at U.S. District Court after he pleaded guilty to three counts of assault on a federal officer with a deadly weapon, and one count each of migrant smuggling and firearms possession by a prohibited person.

Court records show that the incident began when Ramirez drove up to the checkpoint in a 2005 black Ford Escape on Dec. 24, 2017.

A Border Patrol agent conducting vehicle inspections “noticed the driver's hands were shaking tremendously as he was holding a cigarette,” the criminal complaint against Ramirez said. Ramirez also avoided making eye contact with the agent while his two passengers, later identified as German Vasquez Luna and Eduardo Villegas Ocochota, looked straight ahead.

When the agent referred him for a secondary inspection, Ramirez reportedly stopped briefly, then “accelerated abruptly through the secondary inspection area and back onto Interstate 19 at a high rate of speed,” the complaint said.

Three Border Patrol agents pursued the fleeing vehicle in two separate marked vehicles as Ramirez reportedly drove at speeds reaching approximately 90 mph and tried to ram the agents’ marked patrol cars.

“When that did not stop the pursuit, the defendant fired shots at the agents with a revolver,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release issued Friday. “When his firearm was empty of ammunition, the defendant attempted to reload the weapon but, in doing so, lost control of his car which then rolled multiple times.” 

One of the undocumented passengers was ejected from the vehicle and suffered head trauma that left him comatose. He also sustained a broken shoulder and collarbone, resulting in the permanent disfigurement of one of his shoulders, the news release said. 

“The other individual suffered a permanent injury to one of his eyes that will affect his vision for the rest of his life,” it said.

Agents recovered Ramirez’s firearm at the crash scene and later identified it as a .38 caliber Charter Arms Bulldog revolver that had been reported stolen by Tucson Police Department. They also found multiple rounds of .38-caliber ammunition on Ramirez, according to the complaint.

Both passengers later told investigators that they had arranged in Mexico to be smuggled into the United States and transported to Kalamazoo, Mich., where they planned to work.

Villegas said he crossed the border illegally earlier on the day of the crash and was picked up by someone driving a pickup, before eventually being transferred to the Ford Escape. Vasquez said he had been picked up by Ramirez in the Ford Escape earlier that day somewhere near Nogales, Ariz.

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