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Accused smuggler charged after man dies in cross-border trek

SAN DIEGO — A 23-year-old man has been charged in federal court in connection to the death of a Mexican national he allegedly helped smuggle across the border.

Flavio Daniel Meza Gonzalez told investigators he left a 35-year-old man to die after succumbing to pressure from others in the group, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. He pleaded not guilty Wednesday to smuggling resulting in death and smuggling for financial gain and was released on $35,000 bail.

According to the criminal complaint, the man who died was David Ramirez Diaz, who became dehydrated after crossing the border with his wife and five others who were allegedly guided by Meza.

On Monday evening, officials in Mexico notified the U.S. Border Patrol that they had gotten a cellphone call from a woman reporting that she was lost north of the border on Otay Mountain and that her husband was ill and suffering from dehydration, according to USBP public affairs.

About 6:45 a.m. Tuesday, Border Patrol personnel found the 22-year-old woman, identified in the criminal complaint as Itzel Mondragon Mancilla, about two miles north of the international border. Several hours later, searchers located the body of her husband, Ramirez, in the same general area.

Investigators determined that the couple had been with a group of fellow Mexican nationals, the rest of whom had been detained about five miles north of the border near Dulzura. Meza was identified as the person who allegedly had been in charge of sneaking the party of travelers across the border.

Meza told investigators the others in the group pressured him to continue without Ramirez and his wife when the sick man couldn’t keep up with the group, the Union-Tribune reported. He “appeared visibly startled” when agents informed him Ramirez had died.

“Due to this tragic result, the smuggler should face the highest consequences,” Acting Assistant Chief Patrol Agent Boone Smith said in a statement Thursday.

The others who were detained told agents they had agreed to pay between $7,000 and $8,500 to be smuggled into the U.S.