UPDATE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement told Wilmur Gomez’s lawyer, Linda Corchado, late Thursday that it has no plans to move him from its El Paso detention facility. An ICE spokeswoman said Friday that Gomez “remains in ICE custody in El Paso pending removal proceedings.”
Warning: This story contains graphic content that may be triggering or unsettling for some readers.
The El Paso District Attorney’s Office is trying to stop the imminent deportation of one of the few survivors and witnesses in a crash near Downtown El Paso that killed seven people in a vehicle fleeing the Border Patrol.
Wilmur Gomez, 25, of Guatemala, was one of only three survivors of the June 25 crash on Paisano Drive. Gomez’s lawyer, Linda Corchado, told El Paso Matters he was set to be deported on Thursday, but the District Attorney’s Office has said it will intervene to keep him in the United States while the investigation continues.
“I was contacted by (Corchado), and was told that he was going to be deported tomorrow, possibly. The decision was made to work with (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to probably defer action on his status, so that he would not be deported,” Assistant District Attorney Roberto Ramos said. He said ICE doesn’t have to comply with the DA’s request.
“ICE is never obligated to do anything they don’t want. They treat every request, whether it’s deferred action or public benefit parole request on a case by-case basis,” Ramos said.
El Paso Matters asked ICE on Wednesday afternoon for a comment on Gomez’s status and received a response on Friday. A spokeswoman said Gomez had been deported twice previously since 2015 and “remains in ICE custody in El Paso pending removal proceedings.”
Several witnesses, including Gomez, reported that multiple Border Patrol vehicles were in pursuit of the vehicle at the time of the June 25 crash. Border Patrol officials have said agents broke off the chase — which began after agents saw people getting in the Chevrolet Cruze near the border in Sunland Park, N.M. — as the vehicle came into Downtown El Paso. Four El Paso teens and three migrants were among the dead; three people in the vehicle were injured but survived.
Recalling a chase and deadly wreck
In an interview with El Paso Matters, Gomez described events both leading up to and after the crash in detail. He recalled seeing approximately seven Border Patrol vehicles in pursuit of the car he was in, and said that the pursuit never stopped before the crash. He said that as the car he was in accelerated, the group of Border Patrol vehicles behind them also accelerated, eventually reaching high speeds.
At one point during the chase, Gomez described his vehicle and pursuing Border Patrol vehicles running a red light. “Even though the light was red, all seven (Border Patrol) vehicles continued forward to chase us. I remember that there were (other cars on the road) to the left and right, and they all had to slam the brakes to avoid hitting the (Border Patrol) vehicles,” Gomez said.
Border Patrol officials did not respond directly to a question about Gomez’s account of agents running the red light. “A Border Patrol supervisor … terminated the pursuit almost as soon as it began,” El Paso Border Patrol Chief Gloria Chavez said in a video message released on Twitter on June 27.
The Border Patrol’s Office of Professional Responsibility is conducting an internal investigation into the crash and events leading up to it, Customs and Border Protection spokesman Roger Maier said.
The El Paso Police Department is continuing its investigation into the crash.
“A determination was made by the El Paso Police Department that Border Patrol was not chasing (the vehicle) at the time of the crash,” police spokesman Sgt. Enrique Carrillo said Wednesday, referring to a June 26 press release from the department.
Keeping Gomez from being deported
Corchado said that if Gomez was deported, it would suggest a lack of commitment to thoroughly investigating the crash. “They have someone who’s a vital witness and they’re not giving the urgency to stop the deportation and to protect a key asset in this investigation. I think that’s a red flag for the community. If all law enforcement was deeply troubled by this incident, he would have been a high priority,” Corchado said.
Cynthia Pompa, advocacy manager for the American Civil Liberties Union Border Rights Center in El Paso, agreed with Corchado.
“To swiftly deport a key witness in a car chase by Border Patrol that led to the death of seven people is an injustice to the El Paso community. CBP has a long history of abuse without any oversight. The El Paso district attorney has a responsibility and an opportunity here to uphold an independent and fair investigation into this deadly crash,” Pompa said.
Gomez said he still suffers from injuries sustained during the crash, and cannot use one of his arms. He also said he has significant psychological trauma from the crash.
“I saw everything that happened, everything. Even at one point, when the vehicle turned over, there were body parts on top of me. I don’t even know what the parts were. When the firemen got there they had to remove it from me. There was something from another passenger on my face. I don’t know how to describe it, it was like flesh,” Gomez said.
Gomez said that multiple passengers in the vehicle urged the driver to slow down at several points during the chase. “The driver didn’t want to slow down,” he said.
“The (Border Patrol) vehicles were about 100 meters behind us and as we were about to hit a right turn, that’s when the driver lost control because he was driving at such a high velocity. Passengers in the vehicle were screaming “no,” and that’s when we hit the trailer,” Gomez said.
Gomez said he has been interviewed three times by officials about the crash, though was not sure which law enforcement agencies were involved.
Cover photo: Friends of some of the victims in the June 25 fatal accident on Paisano Drive near Downtown El Paso gathered at the crash site on Paisano to mourn several days later. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)