McALLEN, Texas (AP) — Texas law enforcement agents were close enough to a pickup truck to see it was carrying people, not drugs, before one opened fire, killing two Guatemalan immigrants, a diplomat said Tuesday.
But after interviewing seven surviving illegal immigrants, Alba Caceres, Guatemala's consul in McAllen, said there was agreement that the helicopter was 450 to 600 feet away when a trooper inside fired in an attempt to disable the fleeing vehicle. She said the trooper should have been able to see the people inside.
Along with the driver, four passengers were riding in the cab — three of them crammed behind the front seat, she said. The other six passengers, including the two who were killed, were in the truck's bed, covered with a sheet.
A DPS spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Caceres was awaiting death certificates that would allow the bodies to be taken back to Guatemala.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens spotted the truck Thursday near La Joya and called for help when the driver wouldn't stop. The DPS helicopter responded and joined the chase.
DPS has said the crew believed the truck was carrying a load of drugs when the trooper tried to disable it by shooting out a tire on a rural, gravel road.
Caceres has made a formal request for an investigation. The Texas Rangers, an arm of DPS that often assists other agencies in officer-involved shootings, is leading the probe.
DPS has said the troopers suspected the pickup was carrying a "typical covered drug load," and the driver was going at reckless speeds. Agency regulations say troopers are allowed to use force when defending themselves or someone else from serious harm or death. Shooting at vehicles is justified to disable a vehicle or when deadly force is deemed necessary.
The Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, a group of community-based organizations, has scheduled a Thursday news conference and prayer vigil at the site of the shooting.
The immigrants' families also have been concerned because they took out high-interest loans from someone in their community to pay the smugglers and it will be difficult to pay that money back now that their relatives are in U.S. custody rather than working in the U.S., Caceres said.
The loans ranged from $2,500 to more than $6,000 at interest rates of 9 percent to 10 percent per month, she said.
"You always expect that a coyote (smuggler) will abandon you," Caceres said. "You expect that organized crime will kidnap you. You expect that common criminals will assault you. But you would never expect that a United States authority would take your life."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.