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 hiding under a cover in the vehicle's bed, a diplomat said Tuesday.
Texas Department of Public Safety officials have said the helicopter crew believed the truck was carrying a covered drug load in the bed and a trooper aboard fired to stop it.
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 the trooper inside fired in an attempt to disable the fleeing vehicle. She said the trooper should have been able to see the people inside.
"They all saw it (the helicopter)," Caceres said. "All of them, including those riding up front because they were stuck against the window."
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.
Caceres had said Monday that her skepticism was building that a helicopter could fire on a vehicle without seeing people stuffed into the cabin and bed. "Neither you nor I believe it," she said.
DPS spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said Tuesday that the incident remains under investigation, but "according to our preliminary review and irrefutable evidence, the tarp did not blow off the back of the truck during the pursuit."
She reiterated the agency's earlier statement that the helicopter crew believed the tarp was covering a load of drugs when a trooper fired to disable the vehicle. She also said it's rare for an officer to fire on a fleeing vehicle from a helicopter.
The shots killed Jose Leonardo Coj Cumar, 32, and Marcos Antonio Castro Estrada, 29. Coj was a father of three who was traveling to the United States because his eldest son needed surgery to repair an arm injured cutting fire wood, Caceres said. Castro was a father of two whose wife is three months pregnant. Both men were from San Martin Jilotepeque, about an hour outside of the Guatemalan capital.