A Tucson woman has been indicted for allegedly smuggling two illegal aliens from Mexico while driving a car that crashed into a tow truck in southern Arizona, killing one of her illegal alien passengers.
Michelle Sunshine Betters, 44, appeared telephonically in federal court on Tuesday on charges relating to the transportation of illegal aliens while placing a person’s life in jeopardy and causing bodily injury resulting in death.
Betters was previously indicted on three counts by a federal grand jury and was ordered detained pending trial on Sept. 8.
“These events highlight the incredibly dangerous nature of human smuggling attempts,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Glenn B. McCormick in a written statement.
“Illegally transporting non-citizens is hazardous for all involved—the transporter, the non-citizens, and the general public,” McCormick said. “The possibility of a tragedy is always present, and it sadly became a reality this time.”
On June 3, Detective Jose Flores of the Tohono O’odham Police Department responded to a two-vehicle crash on State Route 86 located outside of Tucson.
The investigation found that Betters was driving a 1997 Buick sedan that sideswiped a tow-truck, then left the roadway and struck a tree.
The car was carrying two passengers, both of whom were determined to be Mexican illegal immigrants.
According to the criminal complaint, the tow-truck driver, Thomas Downey, told Flores that he was heading west on Route 86 and that he “dozed off a little.” When he woke up, he saw an eastbound vehicle merging into his lane.
Downey stated the car side-swiped the rear of his tow truck and crashed into a tree as he swerved his truck in an attempt to avoid the collision and went off the road.
The complaint stated an unidentified male passenger was observed in the back seat slumped over on his side unresponsive with severe head injuries.
Betters reportedly had a large cut on her forehead and several small cuts on her upper body. She was taken to Banner University Medical Center in Tuscon and treated for her injuries.
Another male passenger was observed lying face down on the ground next to the Buick while a motorist was rendering aid.
The passenger, Carlos Morales Rodriguez, told Flores that he had paid an individual in Mexico $1,200 to be smuggled into the United States. Once he made it to his destination in Atlanta, Georgia, he would have to pay an additional $7,800.
“Morales stated he was in a house in Altar, Sonora [Mexico] with about 40 to 50 other people from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico who were all waiting to be smuggled into the United States,” the criminal complaint states.
Morales said that “they were smuggling people in pairs to a ranch located in Mexico.” A guide then picked them up and the group walked for about 10 hours per day.
Morales and his traveling partner who died in the crash then walked to an abandoned church in Topawa. “An individual told them their ride was there to pick them up and they entered a Buick sedan,” the complaint said.
It added that Morales “believes that the driver of the vehicle [Betters] got afraid that Border Patrol was following them, which caused the driver to increase speed.”
Morales suffered a fractured sternum, cuts and bruises to his arms and was treated at the hospital. He was later transported to the HSI office in Tuscon for processing and interview.
“Unfortunately, this is yet another example of the dangers of human smuggling resulting in a tragic death,” said special agent in charge, Scott Brown for HSI (Homeland Security Investigations) Phoenix.
“HSI is committed to investigating these human smuggling organizations that prey on the vulnerable and have no regard for the sanctity of life. We will stop at nothing to bring those involved to face justice.”
The Tohono O’odham Police Department and HSI are conducting the investigation in this case. The Tucson Office of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona, is handling the prosecution.
In 2020, the remains of 227 migrants were found, while at least 7,000 have died along the U.S.-Mexico border since 1998, according to Humane Borders.