High-Speed Chases, Smuggling Crashes Take Toll on Small Border Town

By Charlotte Cuthbertson
Charlotte Cuthbertson
Charlotte Cuthbertson
Senior Reporter
Charlotte Cuthbertson is a senior reporter with The Epoch Times who primarily covers border security and the opioid crisis.
February 24, 2022Updated: March 3, 2022

BRACKETTVILLE, Texas—Katherine Vasquez is thanking her lucky stars. 

Almost home after a morning walk with her dog, she heard a vehicle moving way too fast for the 30 mph speed limit. A quarter-mile away, an SUV was bearing down on her location so fast she barely had time to run across the road toward her house, frantically calling her dog to follow. 

The residential streets of Brackettville, a two-traffic-light town, are a mix of sealed and dirt roads that are more pitted and pockmarked than the average New York taxi driver is used to. Driving fast on them is ill-advised. 

“I didn’t know where to run,” Vasquez told The Epoch Times. 

“I guess he didn’t know what he was going to do either. I don’t know if he was trying to avoid me. And then he took that left, and once he took a left, he rolled twice and then hit the [housing] unit.” 

Epoch Times Photo
Katherine Vasquez stands near the home that was hit by a truck during a high-speed chase in Brackettville, Texas, on Feb. 18, 2022. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

The Chevy Tahoe gouged deep tracks into the hard-packed Texas dirt as the driver failed to make a 90-degree turn during the high-speed chase with Texas state troopers.  

The driver suffered severe head trauma, and his passenger had a bone sticking six inches out of his leg. Each required a helicopter flight to a San Antonio hospital, costing around $40,000 each.

The accident was the latest in the all-too-frequent border-related smuggling incidents that have befallen Brackettville, a town of around 1,700 residents, give or take some winter Texans. The town sits about 30 miles from the U.S.–Mexico border and is the county seat for Kinney County. 

Much of the smuggling traffic involves illegal aliens who have crossed into Eagle Pass or Del Rio, Texas, have avoided law enforcement, and are being transported to Houston or San Antonio. 

The residents of Brackettville are used to seeing a constant presence of troopers and deputies on the roads, and it’s common to hear sirens as they pull over suspected smugglers. 

But the high-speed chases that enter the town are what worry the sheriff most.

The chase on Feb. 18 was a 17-minute pursuit that started miles away on a rural county road that’s known to be a popular smuggling route. Speeds reached beyond 100 mph, the sheriff estimates.

“The road where he wrecked, that road leads straight into the school gym,” Kinney County Sheriff Brad Coe said. “If he’d kept going straight, he would have gone right into the school zone.

“He could have hurt or killed any number of the local residents.”

Epoch Times Photo
Law enforcement and emergency personnel aid the driver and passenger of a truck that rolled and hit a house during a high-speed chase in Brackettville, Texas, on Feb. 18, 2022. (Courtesy of Katherine Vasquez)

In February 2021, “when things were peaceful and quiet,” Coe said his deputies arrested eight smugglers transporting illegal aliens. This February, as of the 18th, 26 smugglers had been arrested. 

That’s just the sheriff’s office, which has two full-time deputies and one or two deputies from Galveston. The beefed-up numbers of troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety are the main force in arresting smugglers. 

Since Oct. 1, 2021, all law enforcement in Kinney County combined have arrested almost 300 smugglers. 

The most recent crash was the latest in a string of high-speed chases that have ended badly for the vehicle occupants. 

One of the more horrific ones occurred on Feb. 1, when a driver plowed through a ranch fence while trying to evade law enforcement. The vehicle, which was carrying at least five illegal immigrants, rolled. One occupant is now a quadriplegic and another a paraplegic. 

Each such crash strains the county’s emergency resources while endangering lives. 

“Here’s the question. He’s coming into town. I’ve got 1,700 people here in town,” Coe said. “Do I try to shoot the tires out? Take the chance of the vehicle rolling and killing the people inside the vehicle? Or do I try to keep it from coming into town? Or do I let it pass through town and run the risk of killing somebody?” 

He said he had road spikes ready to deploy on Feb. 18, but the truck was traveling so fast, it passed him before he had the chance. 

“So it’s one of those ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’ Personally, the citizens of the county, the citizens of Brackettville itself, their needs far outweigh his, the people in that truck.” 

Epoch Times Photo
Roman Rosas and Lyna Salazar with their children Adalynn and Joshuaa stand outside their home, which was hit by a truck during a high-speed chase in Brackettville, Texas, on Feb. 18, 2022. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

Lyna Salazar lives in the housing unit that the truck hit, along with her fiancé and two children, aged 3 and 1. 

The high-speed chases “just kept getting closer into town, into town, into town. I just knew it was going to happen,” Salazar said. The house has a crack on the inside where it was struck, but the outside brick is in worse shape, she said. 

She’s hoping the housing authority will consider placing large boulders on the corner to serve as a vehicle barrier. 

Looking from her yard, three blocks down, boulders can be seen that protect the school gym. 

Brackettville’s high school goes into a “hold in place” mode whenever a high-speed chase gets too close for comfort. On Feb. 18, the school day was underway when the warning came over the speakers. 

“They usually don’t tell us what it’s about,” a high school student told The Epoch Times. “But we could hear the police sirens. Obviously it was a chase, because that’s what happens.”

That day, a second “hold in place” was called in the mid-afternoon during another chase. And as the student athletes practiced at the town’s running track later the same afternoon, police cars whizzed by, responding to another smuggling incident. The school and the track are both located along popular smuggling routes. 

​​School board member and parent Mark Perez said the boulders were placed in front of the school in the spring of 2021 and cost about $60,000. 

“Unfortunately, we could use that towards our students for their education, but right now we’re using it for their safety because of everything that’s going on,” Perez told The Epoch Times.  

He said other precautions include moving the parent pick-up/drop-off zone to the back of the school instead of out front. 

“Overall, it’s very concerning. I think everybody in the community could probably agree that it’s uneasy, not knowing when you’re going to have a pursuit come down and if the kids are going to be at recess or walking back and forth between classes,” Perez said. 

While law enforcement always tries to initiate a vehicle pursuit away from town, the unpredictable nature of the pursuits means it’s sometimes unavoidable. 

Epoch Times Photo
Kinney County Sheriff Brad Coe in Brackettville, Texas, on Jan. 18, 2022. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

Recently, a greater number of smugglers are also being caught with a firearm, the sheriff said. 

“Sometimes they’re under the seat, sometimes in the console,” he said. 

“But we’re hearing that whoever’s running the smuggling operation and hiring these people, they’ve given them the green light to start engaging us with their firearms.” 

Last month, deputies stopped a vehicle in the middle of the night and a teenage driver exited the vehicle with what looked like a gun in his hand. 

“One of the deputies drew down on him, getting ready. He [the deputy] told him to drop it and he did,” Coe said. “It looked real, but it was a plastic BB gun. It wouldn’t have taken a lot for that whole scenario to go south. 

“Before this is over, somebody’s going to get shot. I just pray it’s not one of my guys.”

Related Topics