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Crews find 4 bodies in canal after police chase

October 27, 2008

A water rescue team recovered a total of four bodies of suspected illegal immigrants from a canal on the Gila River Indian reservation in a search that began Sunday and concluded Monday morning.

A fifth person, a man, was rescued from the canal on Sunday and is in ICE custody, according to Gila River spokeswoman Alia Maisonet.

Also rescued on Sunday was a woman who was airlifted to a hospital but died that night. All of the bodies were of adults and there were no children involved in the incident, authorities said.

The incident began on Sunday around 12:30 pm., when officers from the Gila River Indian Community police department pulled over a suspicious van on near state Route 87 and Hunt Highway.

When officers walked toward the van, the driver drove off but encountered officers on the other side of the road.

The van, which authorities suspect had about 20 illegal immigrants, was boxed in.

Passengers ran off while some attempted to escape through a nearby canal that was 7 feet deep, Maisonet said.

There were no children involved.

Three Gila River officers jumped in the canal and rescued a man and a woman.

A third body was seen floating but disappeared before officers could get to it.

A water rescue team from the Pinal County Sheriff's Office was called in.

Sunday's search ended shortly after 8 p.m., when visibility was low, Maisonet said.

The search resumed Monday morning, when rescuers found two more bodies. It was called off around 11 a.m. Monday.

Fourteen other suspected illegal immigrants who escaped from the van are in ICE custody.

ICE spokesman Vincent Picard said an investigation is ongoing and it has not been determined whether the driver was a drowning victim or not.

The immigrants were from various countries, several of them from Mexico and Guatemala, Picard said.

Reproduced with permission from:
The Arizona Republic
Astrid Galvan
Copyright 2008 Arizona Republic

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