Third Person Charged with Murder in U-Haul Immigrant Smuggling Ring
One immigrant died while being transported in a U-Haul truck to Phoenix.
A third person has been charged in the murder of an immigrant who died after he and eight others were transported in a U-Haul, where temperatures are believed to have reached 180 degrees.
Police say they found text messages and a U-Haul rental agreement that link Yolanda Banda, 48, to the smuggling operation that killed the man. Authorities also believe she and her boyfriend helped operate a smuggling ring that regularly shuttled immigrants from Douglas to Phoenix.
She is being charged with unlawful transport of an alien, smuggling humans for profit, and second-degree murder in connection with the death earlier this month.
On July 7, deputies responded to a call near the Bowlins Travel Center near Interstate 10 and Picacho Peak from someone who said they saw several people fall out of the truck after it had parked and the driver opened the back door.
The Sheriff's Office believes there were more than a dozen people crammed in the truck. Emergency responders treated many in the group for dehydration, fatigue, and heatstroke, which caused vomiting, loss of bowel control, and unconsciousness.
Two people were emergency airlifted, and ambulances carried six others to local hospitals.
Three days later, deputies learned that one of the U-Haul occupants, Rigoberto Gijosa, died while on life support.
Officers later arrested the two suspected drivers, Nathan Lamb and Elizabeth Kay. The couple told authorities they were approached by a Black man and asked to drive a rented U-Haul to Douglas, where they would pick up a load of immigrants from a house.
The two admitted to police that the man, only known as "G," passed them a hand-drawn map that marked the route they should follow to avoid Border Patrol checkpoints.
Around Tucson, the two drivers heard banging on the truck's walls and screams from the back, yelling out that it was hot and they needed water. And around 2 p.m. that day they pulled the truck into the rest stop.
Investigators obtained a search warrant for Lamb and Kay's phones and for the U-Haul. In the truck officers discovered Banda's name on a rental agreement out of Glendale, along with her driver's license number and cell phone number, according to the report.
When authorities searched the driver's cell phones, they found text messages from a number registered to a man named Gerad Punch, who they believe to be "G."
It was then learned that Punch had previously been caught with three immigrants in his car near Wilcox, the report says.
Banda is being held on $250,000 bond.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.
- Inmates Accuse Arizona of Experimenting with Lethal-Injection Drugs
- 10 Things Arizonans Hate About Snowbirds
- Scottsdale Couple Are Pioneers in Tiny-Home Movement in Arizona