The Monitor is reporting today that a 16-year-old Hispanic teen pleaded guilty to nine counts of manslaughter in a Hidalgo County courtroom. Records show that Junior Benjamin Rodriguez drove the van that killed nine illegal immigrants from Oaxaca, Mexico, in a roll over accident in Palmview, TX., in 2012. He was originally charged with nine counts of murder. A plea deal allowed for a reduction in the murder charges to nine counts of manslaughter. The Latino teen could still face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
Junior Benjamin Rodriguez was smuggling around 17 illegal Mexican immigrants or undocumented workers in the minivan along U.S. 83 in Palmview, TX., before the accident occurred. The van of immigrants was discovered after a border patrol agent stopped the teen. Minutes later, the teen sped off in the van with the Mexican immigrants inside. During the high-speed chase, the van lost control and rolled over, killing nine of the 17 people inside.
Police say the plan was to smuggle the undocumented immigrants to Texas, where they would later be transported to local stash houses in town. A witness to the high-speed chase told a Hidalgo County judge that he saw the border patrol agent strike the side of the van, causing it to lose control and roll over on Express 83 (U.S. 83) in Palmview, according to Action 4 News.
Timeline of Junior Benjamin Rodriguez' La Joya crash that left nine illegal immigrants dead in van roll over: On Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 10:30 p.m., 15-year-old Junior Benjamin Rodriguez transports 17 illegal immigrants from the Mexican border to Texas. Before the teen is able to deliver the men to a stash house, a border patrol agent stops the minivan. Just after stopping to speak with the agent, the teen leaves the scene at a high rate of speed.
He is pursued but later loses control of the van, causing the deaths of nine people. After the van rolled over, teen and several other illegal immigrants escape the overturned van. According to The Monitor, the dead bodies of nine people are lying on the ground along eastbound frontage road. Six passengers are transported to the hospital to be treated for injuries.
On April 11, 2012, the Mexican embassy agrees to notify the families about the tragedy but declines to identify the names of the deceased. On April 13, police bust a human trafficking aka human smuggling ring, where at least seven people are arrested in connection with the fatal van accident. Police also arrest a 15-year-old teen. The boy's identity is withheld from the public. Police say the boy told them that he was ordered to drive the van transporting the illegal immigrants or he would be killed. The unidentified teen is held in a juvenile detention facility.
In March 2013, A Hidalgo County judge says that the boy will be tried as an adult. He is finally identified in the media as Junior Benjamin Rodriguez. In May 2013, Junior Benjamin Rodriguez appears in court, where he pleads not guilty. The judge raises his bond to $225,000 and places him in the Hidalgo County Jail. Rodriguez's distraught mother, Reyna Zedillo, cries out to her son during the courtroom proceedings.
On Monday, May 19, 2014, In a plea deal, Junior Benjamin Rodriguez appears at the Hidalgo County Court, where he pleads guilty to nine counts of manslaughter. He will appear in court again in August for sentencing. The teen still could serve up to 20 years in prison on each count.