Authorities ID suspected smuggling boat captain, say he kneed agent in the face

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SAN DIEGO — A man accused of piloting a smuggling boat that crashed into rocks near Point Loma last weekend, killing three people, kneed a U.S. Border Patrol agent in the face as he was taken into custody, authorities said.

Investigators say Antonio Hurtado, a U.S. citizen, was piloting the boat. He was arrested on suspicion of bringing in or harboring undocumented immigrants and assaulting an officer, according to the affidavit. Twenty-one passengers identified Hurtado in a photo lineup as the captain of the vessel.

Investigators said in an affidavit filed Tuesday in federal court in San Diego that the agent kneed by Hurtado was not seriously injured but the hit left a red mark on his forehead. Hurtado was originally slated to appear before a judge Tuesday, but officials said he was unable to attend as he remained hospitalized.

A total of 33 people were pulled from the water after the 40-foot (12-meter) trawling-style boat smashed into rocks and broke apart Sunday, tossing people into the rough sea off Cabrillo National Monument. Besides the three who died, two others were still hospitalized, including one in critical condition.

He was treated in a hospital and turned over to immigration authorities. His lawyer, Melissa Bobrow, declined to comment.

A local tow company owner told FOX 5 this week that he thinks the vessel’s captain is local to San Diego, as he’s seen the vessel several times before. “We see him around all the time,” Robert Butler said.

Butler and his crew were the first to call in the U.S. Coast Guard after spotting the boat getting battered by the surf. During the rescue, some victims of the crash were transferred to the deck of his vessel.

He said the suspected smuggler is well-known and anchors near North Island, an area known as “the zoo.”

“It’s basically where people anchor for free,” Butler said. “They’re known as ‘bouncers.’ They know exactly how long they can stay before they have to move on to the next spot.”

The migrants told investigators they paid between $15,000 and $18,000 each to be smuggled into the U.S. on the boat.

All but one were Mexican citizens, including two 15-year-olds who were traveling alone, a boy and a girl. A Guatemalan man remains hospitalized.

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