What to Know About the Brownsville Crash That Killed 8 Migrants


It must have seemed like a rare moment of peace for a group of newly arrived migrants who had spent the night at a shelter in the border city of Brownsville, Texas, after an arduous journey north. Then, as they milled around outside on Sunday morning, a gray S.U.V. roared through a red light, toppled over and plowed through a crowd outside the shelter, killing eight and injuring 10 others.

The driver has been arrested and charged with manslaughter and other charges. Many of the victims remain in the hospital. Officials are still investigating whether the driver intentionally drove into the crowd.

Here is what we know.

The event unfolded at around 8:29 a.m. on Sunday. The police in Brownsville said they received several reports of a car crash outside the Ozanam Center, a homeless shelter that often houses migrants who cross the border from Mexico.

Witnesses described a gray Range Rover running through a red light and losing control, flipping to its side before it barreled into the group gathered outside, most of them men from Venezuela, standing near a bus stop.

When officers arrived they found a gruesome scene. Chief Felix Sauceda of the Brownsville Police Department said six of the people struck by the car died on the spot and two died later at the hospital. Ten others suffered severe injuries.

The police identified the driver as George Alvarez, a 34-year-old resident of Brownsville. This is not Mr. Alvarez’s first encounter with the police. Chief Sauceda said he had been arrested numerous times in the past, including on charges for burglary, assault, theft and driving while intoxicated.

Mr. Alvarez has refused to cooperate with investigators. He has given the police several different names and has not submitted to a breathalyzer test or fingerprinting. The police are awaiting the results of a blood test to determine if Mr. Alvarez was intoxicated at the time of the crash.

In the days after the deadly accident, the police were investigating reports that Mr. Alvarez had yelled anti-immigration insults at the group he struck, most of whom had arrived in Brownsville to seek asylum.

More criminal charges could be added if investigators determine that the crash was deliberate, Chief Sauceda said. Video images captured a group of migrants pinning down Mr. Alvarez after he tried to run away after the car crash.

The police charged Mr. Alvarez with eight counts of manslaughter, 10 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and reckless driving. Mr. Alvarez, who is being held in a Brownsville jail, appeared before a criminal court judge on Monday who issued a $3.6 million bond.

The authorities have not released the identities of the eight victims. Most of them were men from Venezuela in their 20s, 30s and 40s, immigration activists said. In recent days a large number of migrants have been arriving in Brownsville and other border cities in anticipation of the end of Title 42, a rule imposed early in the coronavirus pandemic by the Trump administration to ease the expulsion of migrants crossing the border.

Title 42, which came to be seen as a major impediment to seeking asylum in the U.S., is scheduled to expire this week. In recent years many Venezuelans have been leaving their native country to seek asylum in America as part of desperate effort to escape poverty and government oppression.

The authorities in Brownsville have been working with Venezuelan consular officials to identify victims and reunite them with loved ones. Seven migrants remained hospitalized on Tuesday, the police said, and three had been released from the hospital.

Witnesses described a scene of chaos and horror as the S.U.V. barreled toward them. Yohonny Miratriz, 38, who left Venezuela in March and is headed to Garland, Texas, said he and two friends were strolling to a bus stop outside a shelter where they had been staying when the crash happened. He heard a deafening roar, followed by a tremble on the road beneath him. When he turned around, time seemed to slow down as he saw the vehicle already on its side and flying in their direction.

“I had time to think, do I jump forward or backward?” Mr. Miratriz recalled. “Which way would give me a better chance at survival?” He decided to dive head first and felt the sharp sting of the truck’s nose strike his left leg. “At first it didn’t hurt. I was in shock, but then the pain came rushing.”

A close friend, Luis Matute, who was in his 30s, died in the crash. A second, Johan Quiroz, 40, was severely injured and was taken to a hospital, where he was recovering, he said.

“How did I survive? I think only God knows.”

Kirsten Noyes contributed research.



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