SAN DIEGO (CNS) – A man who piloted a boat that crashed near Point Loma during an apparent human-smuggling operation, leading to the deaths of three people and injuries to more than two dozen others, pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges.

Antonio Hurtado, 40, a U.S. citizen and San Diego resident, was indicted by a grand jury in connection with the May 2, 2021, crash that killed 41-year-old Maria Eugenia Chavez-Segovia, 35-year-old Maricela Hernandez Sanchez and 29-year-old Victor Perez Degollado.

Hurtado, who authorities alleged was steering the vessel that capsized about 50 yards from the shore around 10 a.m., was hospitalized along with 29 others.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that, at some point during the journey, Hurtado lost consciousness while driving the boat due to being under the influence of controlled substances. Prosecutors say people aboard the boat had to wake him up after the boat traveled aimlessly in circles for more than an hour.

Engine failure and rainy conditions led the vessel to eventually drift toward land, where it ran aground, sending the occupants into the water.

According to court documents, migrants who were aboard the boat said they paid between $15,000 and $18,000 to be smuggled into the United States from Mexico and identified Hurtado as the vessel’s captain.

Hurtado also pleaded guilty to a count of assault on a federal officer for striking a Border Patrol agent in the head with his knee after he was arrested.

He was set to go to trial next month in connection with the fatal crash prior to entering guilty pleas Wednesday in San Diego federal court.

“This was a horrific tragedy that never should have happened,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “Because of the incomprehensible and stunning recklessness of the defendant on that terrible day, three people died and many others had to be rescued from rough seas.

“The defendant’s boat was packed with way too many people, and he then repeatedly used illicit drugs to the point of losing consciousness. When the boat capsized and passengers were desperately trying to survive, the defendant swam to safety, leaving them all behind. It was a shocking and callous series of events.”

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