A U.S. Border Patrol agent stationed in Sonoita died from unspecified causes while investigating sensor activity Sunday afternoon in the Patagonia Mountains.
Speaking to reporters at a news conference Monday afternoon in Tucson, Roy Villareal, the sector’s chief patrol agent, said 44-year-old Robert Hotten and two other agents went to investigate the sensor activation on Mount Washington at around 1 p.m. When Hotten was unresponsive on his radio for an extended period of time, the other agents went looking for him and found him at approximately 4:15 p.m.
When Hotten was found, Villareal said, "it appears that he had fallen and may have hit his head on some rocks," though he added that "at this stage, we're not sure sure if that was the cause of death, or if it was something else, some other underlying factor."
A Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s dispatch entry logged at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday reported radio chatter between Sonoita Border Patrol agents and Lifenet 6, a medical helicopter service based at the Tubac Fire District Station 3.
According to the entry, Sonoita Border Patrol reported that “the agent does not have a pulse, his pupils do not show activity and there has been no reaction to 15 series of chest compressions.”
The two agents who discovered Hotten began giving him CPR, and in a news release, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said its Air and Marine Operations transported a Border Patrol agent who is a paramedic to the scene to continue emergency care. Because of the ruggedness of the terrain, Villareal said, agents were unable to evacuate Hotten on a litter to a helicopter landing zone a quarter-mile away until approximately 7 p.m.
From there, he was flown to the Nogales International Airport and transported to the hospital in Nogales, where he was pronounced dead. The results of an autopsy to determine the cause of death are pending.
Villareal said the FBI is investigating the incident, and one member of the group of seven undocumented border-crossers suspected of having tripped the sensor was taken into custody.
He was emphatic in his praise for the agents who attended to Hotten.
"The effort that was put forth by the agents out there was heroic," Villareal said. "Spending over two hours performing CPR, hiking up that mountain with a defibrillator, a litter, and then carrying Agent Hotten to a landing zone – a quarter of a mile doesn’t sound like a great distance, but when you take into consideration the ruggedness of the terrain, the steep environment, the rocks; it was an absolute heroic effort by our officers."
Hotten was the 14th Tucson Sector Border Patrol agent to die in the line of duty, Villareal said. He is survived by his wife, son, mother and brother.