Lawsuit alleges CBP purposely rammed smuggling boat

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SAN DIEGO -- Graciela Lopez Franco was 32 years old when she drowned off the coast of Encinitas in June.

She was one of 20 passengers jammed into a panga boat bound for the United States.

The boat was spotted in U.S. waters by Customs and Border Protection. Three agents followed the panga on a high-speed CBP boat and tried to stop the illegal venture.

Investigators have said the panga driver refused orders to stop and tried to evade the federal agents. Warning shots were fired and ultimately the engine on the panga was shot out by the agents.

At some point after midnight on June 18, the two boats collided, sending the migrants into the water. All of them, except for Lopez, survived.

Now, Gene Iredale, an attorney representing Lopez's family back in Mexico, has filed a lawsuit against the agents claiming they were reckless and used excessive force and malice.

In the suit, Iredale maintains the agents purposely rammed the boat, breaking it apart without warning, leading to Lopez's death.

"I don't know what is the nautical equivalent of cowboy tactics, but it was this. Maybe it's piratical maneuvers. I cannot conceive that there would've been any deliberate attempt by a little wooden boat that sits two feet out of the water to try and ram a metal-hulled vessel 38 feet in length weighing 18,000 pounds," Iredale said.

The U.S. Government has yet to respond to the lawsuit. The agents named in the suit are Christopher Hunter, Arian Linscott and Craig Jenkins. Attempts to reach them through Customs and Border Protection were unsuccessful.

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