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Alleged Captain Of Smuggling Vessel In Custody Following Deadly Crash

Remnants of the 40-foot cabin cruiser suspected of human smuggling broken up ...

Credit: San Diego Fire-Rescue Department

Above: Remnants of the 40-foot cabin cruiser suspected of human smuggling broken up along the rocks in Point Loma near Cabrillo Monument, May 2, 2021.

A U.S. citizen was in custody Tuesday on suspicion of captaining a boat that crashed in coastal waters near Point Loma during an apparent human-smuggling operation, killing three people and injuring more than two dozen others, authorities said.

The captain, a man whose name and age was not immediately available, was turned over to U.S. Customs agents following the crash, Customs and Border Protection Supervisory Officer Javier Garcia said.

At about 10 a.m. Sunday, lifeguards were notified of a vessel experiencing trouble near the tidepools at Cabrillo National Monument, Garcia said. The reporting party initially told dispatchers one person was on board.

A rescue boat responded to the scene, but minutes later the 40-foot trawler-style vessel crashed into the rocky shoreline near Cabrillo National Monument and capsized, according to the Border Patrol. All the occupants jumped in the water as the boat slowly disintegrated, a bystander's video showed.

A total of 29 people survived, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, which Monday morning suspended its efforts to locate any other victims at sea.

Two women and one man died following the crash, according to the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office. They were publicly identified Tuesday as 41-year-old Maria Eugenia Chavez-Segovia, 35-year-old Maricela Hernandez Sanchez and 29-year-old Victor Perez DeGollado.

All three were Mexican nationals.

City lifeguards responding to the emergency conducted seven water rescues and helped get one person off a seaside bluff, said James Gartland, lifeguard chief.

"This was a mass rescue operation that turned into a mass-casualty event," Gartland said.

There was one major trauma, and three people were treated with CPR, he said. One of the victims remained hospitalized in critical condition as of Monday morning, according to the Coast Guard.

The 29 survivors were taken to various local hospitals for treatment, Garcia said. Five of the 29 remained hospitalized as of Monday.

Among the 29 survivors, there were 27 undocumented Mexican nationals, one undocumented Guatemalan national and the captain, a U.S. citizen, Garcia said. One undocumented passenger was an unaccompanied 15-year-old boy, while the other passengers ranged in age from 18-39. Twenty-one were men and six were women.

Migrant smugglers "don't care about the people they're exploiting," U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Jeffery Stephenson told reporters Sunday. "All they care about is profit. They had inadequate safety equipment, and obviously, this vessel was severely overcrowded," Stephenson said.

The cause of the accident was under investigation.

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