Human smuggler gets 11 years for crash that killed 80-year-old woman
A Tucson man was sentenced in a federal court to 11 years in prison on Monday for trying to smuggle two Mexican men into the United States, an attempt that ended disastrously when he swerved into oncoming traffic while fleeing from Border Patrol agents and killed an 80-year-old woman.
William Ken Huebbe, 31, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jennifer G. Zipps for the transportation of illegal aliens resulting in death, said Cosme Lopez, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office. The sentencing was part of a plea deal made in March between Huebbe and the U.S. Attorney.
Huebbe's partner, Robert Evan Butcher Jr., 26, plead guilty and was sentenced in July to 48 months in prison.
According to the plea agreement, Huebbe said on January 8, 2015 he drove his Chevrolet Impala south on Sierrita Mountain Road and picked up two Mexican men, identified as Efrain Renteria-Zermeno and Javier Espinosa-Burgos, who had entered the United States illegally. Both men told authorities that they expected to pay a smuggling fee, and had been told to wait to be picked up by a blue car.
Lopez said that Huebbe was traveling northbound when he spotted an unmarked Border Patrol vehicle and fled at "an extremely high rate of speed" along the two-lane highway until he "recklessly swerved" into oncoming traffic. Huebbe slammed into a Ford Focus head-on.
The passenger Gracie Baldwin, 80, was severely injured in the crash and was airlifted to University of Arizona Medical Center, but was pronounced dead before reaching the hospital.
Her daughter, Kelly Schwalenstocker, 55, was driving and "sustained massive injuries" in the crash, said Lopez.
Huebbe escaped serious injury and fled into the desert on a broken foot, but was arrested by Border Patrol agents shortly after, said Lopez.
According to court documents, Border Patrol agents said that they never gave chase, but instead pulled out and followed the vehicle after it passed them going northbound, catching up only after the crash.
The investigation was handled by Homeland Security Investigations, Border Patrol and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, and prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Josh A.C. Ackerman, said Lopez.