The day before two dead immigrants were found in the trunk of a California man driving into the United States, Arizona officials rescued two Mexicans from nearly befalling a similar fate.
Ryan Alitz, a 30-year-old meth addict who moved to Arizona from Iowa this year, was arrested on August 11 at a checkpoint near North Komelik on the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation after two undocumented men showing symptoms of dehydration were discovered in a car trunk.
Border agents manning the checkpoint on Federal Route 15, about 30 miles south of Casa Grande, became suspicious about 2 p.m. that day when they saw the driver of a vehicle who was familiar to them. The driver, in his silver Chevrolet Impala, was known to act as a scout during smuggling runs -- agents knew to check not his car but a white Chevy Lumina following him. Sure enough, the driver of that car acted very "fidgety" after being stopped, a federal complaint says.
After a brief talk with the driver, later identified as Alitz, and a quick examination of the car, agents knew something was afoot. The interior of the car was almost spotless and contained no personal property. Its trunk-release mechanism had been damaged, and there was a single key in the ignition. Alitz said the car was a rental, then said it was a friend's, then said he was lost on the reservation, the complaint says. A passenger in the car, also a non-tribal member, told the agent that the two were simply driving around, lost.
The ignition key didn't work in the trunk, and there was no way to get the trunk open easily, the female agent found. In the back seat of the car, though, an opening led to the trunk. The agent saw a purple shirt through the hole, and poked it with her flashlight.
"Aye," the owner of the purple shirt said, the complaint states.
Agents ripped out the back seats and removed two men from the Lumina's trunk. They were both "severely sweaty, shaky, and showed the symptoms of dehydration," the complaint says. Neither wanted medical attention, however. The two immigrants, David Gonzales and David Mayo-Vinalay, gave statements about the smuggling arrangement to the Border Patrol and were returned to Mexico.
Alitz, though, who lives in Mesa, is being held in jail because he's a deadbeat dad who's behind on child support in Iowa, and also because he's a meth addict. The feds also believe his Iowa driver's license is suspended, and that he had no Arizona license.
He told authorities he'd been contacted that morning by someone named "Cowboy," who'd offered to pay him $500 to "drive." After renting the car, Alitz admitted that he saw one man get into the car's trunk after a stop in a village on the reservation.
He's being charged with transportation of undocumented immigrants.
The immigrants told authorities they'd paid $2,500 and $3,700, respectively, to be smuggled into the United States.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
To some extent, Alitz was fortunate -- as were the immigrants in his trunk. On Wednesday, 41-year-old Nicholas George Zakov wept in court as he was read charges against him stemming from his attempt to bring two Mexican men into the country in the trunk of his Dodge Charger. After waiting at the border for more than a hour, agents became suspicious when Zakov pulled up and soon found the men in the trunk. One was already dead, the other died soon after.
Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.