The chase began in the 1400 block of East Houston Street and ended in thick brush after the suspected vehicle turned off Ellis Road, crashed through a fence and careened through about 200 yards of vegetation so dense nobody could have walked through it.
At least 10 of the occupants bailed out of the green Dodge pickup as it tried to outrun Moore heading south on Ellis Road.
When the vehicle finally crashed through the fence, apparently only two occupants were left in the front seat of the truck.
Officers at the scene said they opted not to give chase because they were not well enough armed to encounter unfriendly coyotes in brush so thick.
Police Chief Joe Treviño said his officers did find the truck, stopped when it met a live oak tree that they knew would not budge.
He said those at the scene then called for the City of Beeville to send out a tractor with front end loader and a backhoe to extract the pickup from the brush.
Wrecker driver Lee Arismendez said it would be impossible for him to get his truck far enough into the brush to bring the truck out without risking unnecessary damage.
City employees Robert Arriola and Victor Gonzales responded to the call.
They were met by Lt. Kenneth Jefferson, Detective Sgt. Art Gamez, Detective Sgt. Matthew Miller, Detective Sgt. Chris Vasquez and Patrolmen Moore and Joshua Sorenson.
Moore said he was the officer who initiated the chase. He said there was just something suspicious about the truck when he saw it going east on Houston Street.
So he pulled in behind the vehicle and turned on his emergency lights. The driver immediately stepped on the gas and raced east out of the city.
But Moore continued the chase, calling for backup as he went.
A couple of units from the Bee County Sheriff’s Office joined the pursuit.
The four-door Dodge truck had several scratches in the paint after plowing through the heavy brush. By the time a force of armed officers could reach the vehicle, the last of the occupants was long gone.
Officers noticed immediately that the back seat had been taken out of the vehicle so that more passengers could hide in that part of the truck.
Others had hidden in the bed of the truck.
The incident was just the latest is a long string of similar chases that usually ended on some remote stretch of rural highway.
Later, Moore said as many as 18 Mexican nationals were thought to have been hidden away in the vehicle.
He said five of them were captured later during another routine traffic stop within the city.
Treviño and Sgt. Jason Alvarez said that the number of vehicles bringing illegals through Bee County is increasing this year.
The chief said the increased traffic and the fact that local officers are getting better at spotting the vehicles is the reason this year has been so active for city and county officers.
Alvarez said the routes taken by the coyotes will vary, but almost any major highway will regularly be used.
In Bee County, Alvarez said the back roads are becoming a more common route for the smugglers.
“Most of the drivers have been doing this for a while,” the officer said. They know the roads as well as anyone who lives in Bee County.
Alvarez said human smugglers come from many backgrounds. The drug cartels in Mexico have found that smuggling humans across the border can be as lucrative as smuggling drugs. Also, they are already experts at smuggling illegal items into Texas.
The immigrants pay between $4,000 and $7,000 a head to be smuggled into the country, Alvarez said. “And you get a load of 20?” At $100,000 a load, that is good money.
Drug cartels, prison gangs and private entrepreneurs are all attracted to the business. The better organized smuggling rings use “stash houses” where they often unload their human cargo for a day or two to keep them until they have a better chance of getting them to a larger city or out of the state.
Alvarez said the smugglers also will try to get more money out of the immigrants while they are at the stash houses.
“I believe there are some in the area,” Alvarez said of the stash houses. “They put 15-20 or 30-40 of them in a house, hold them and try to push them through on certain days when they think it’ll be safer.”
The smugglers take many steps to increase the number of illegals they can get into their vehicles. The truck recovered Friday had the back seat removed. If the smugglers are using a pickup truck, they will also put their cargo in the bed and cover them with a tarp or something.
“Right now, they think they can mingle with the oil field trucks,” the officer said. South Texas highways have a steady stream of pickups carrying oil field crews to work and back.
The problem is not limited to Bee County, Alvarez said. Every county and city in this area has seen an increase in the number of bailouts.
Alvarez said anyone in law enforcement who seeks an intermediate peace officer license from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Education is now required to have special training in dealing with human trafficking across the border.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.