McALLEN, Texas (AP) — Texas law enforcement agents were close enough to a pickup truck to see there were people inside before one opened fire, killing two Guatemalan immigrants, a Guatemalan diplomat said Tuesday.
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 Thursday when a trooper inside fired in an attempt to disable the fleeing vehicle.
A DPS spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"They all saw it (the helicopter)," Caceres said. "All of them, including those riding up front because they were stuck against the window."
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.
Jose Leonardo Coj Cumar, 32, and Marcos Antonio Castro Estrada, 29, were killed. 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.
Caceres was awaiting death certificates that would allow the bodies to be taken back to Guatemala.
Along with the driver, a passenger sat in the front seat and three people were crammed into the back area of the cabin, Caceres said. The other six passengers, including the two who were killed, were in the truck's bed covered with a bed sheet.
The DPS helicopter was helping in a chase that started near La Joya. DPS has said the crew believed the truck was carrying a load of drugs when the trooper tried to disable it by shooting out a tire on a rural, gravel road.
Caceres has made a formal request for an investigation. The Texas Rangers, an arm of DPS that often assists other agencies in officer-involved shootings, is leading the probe.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens found the truck first. After the driver wouldn't stop, they requested help and the DPS helicopter joined the pursuit.
DPS has said the troopers suspected a "typical covered drug load," and the pickup was driving at reckless speeds. The agency's general manual says troopers are allowed to use force when defending themselves or someone else from serious harm or death. Shooting at vehicles is justified to disable a vehicle or when deadly force is deemed necessary.
The Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, a group of community-based organizations, scheduled a news conference and prayer vigil at the site of the incident for Thursday.
The immigrants' families also have been concerned because they took out high-interest loans from someone in their community to pay the smugglers and it will be difficult to pay that money back now that their relatives are in U.S. custody rather than working in the U.S., Caceres said.
The loans ranged from $2,500 to more than $6,000 at interest rates of 9 percent to 10 percent per month, she said.
"You always expect that a coyote (smuggler) will abandon you," Caceres said. "You expect that organized crime will kidnap you. You expect that common criminals will assault you. But you would never expect that a United States authority would take your life."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.