The driver of an SUV that killed eight people when it slammed into a bus stop in Brownsville, Texas, has been charged with manslaughter, police said Monday as investigators tried to determine if the crash was intentional.
Authorities believe driver George Alvarez, 34, of Brownsville, lost control after running a red light Sunday morning, and ploughed into a crowd of Venezuelans outside a migrant centre.
Police Chief Felix Sauceda said Alvarez was charged with eight counts of manslaughter and 10 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Officials are awaiting toxicology reports to determine whether Alvarez was intoxicated, Sauceda said, adding that there was no motive that he could discuss.
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The SUV ran a red light, lost control, flipped on its side and struck 18 people, Sauceda said at a news conference Monday morning. Six people died on the scene and 12 people were critically injured, he said. Officials have said the death toll later rose to eight.
Alvarez tried to flee, but was held down by several people on the scene, he said. His bail was set at $3.6 million.
Victims struck by the vehicle were waiting for the bus to return to downtown Brownsville after spending the night at the overnight shelter, said Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
Most of the victims were Venezuelan men, shelter director Victor Maldonado said. Brownsville has seen a surge of Venezuelan migrants over the last two weeks for unclear reasons, authorities said.
On Thursday, 4,000 of about 6,000 migrants in Border Patrol custody in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley were Venezuelan.
About 2,500 migrants have crossed through the river daily into Brownsville in the past few days, Cardenas said.
He said the Border Patrol is aware of the city’s capacity of 1,000 at their processing area near the crossing point and a downtown building where city employees and volunteers guide migrants on how to purchase bus or plane tickets to their final destinations. The city is considering expanding services to accommodate needs in the coming days, Cardenas said.
While 80 percent of people released from federal custody leave the same day, the city’s emergency management official said, a bottleneck has formed over the past few days.
“Most of the people coming across don’t want to stay in Brownsville, but we don’t have enough buses for them to buy their ticket to leave,” Cardenas said. “Some are waiting for family members.”
The Ozanam shelter can hold 250, but many who arrive leave the same day. In the last several weeks, an uptick in border crossings prompted the city to declare an emergency as local, state and federal resources coordinated enforcement and humanitarian response.
“In the last two months, we’ve been getting 250 to 380 a day,” Maldonado said.
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