By Jack Phillips
The driver accused of running over and killing eight people near a Texas facility holding illegal immigrants was identified as 34-year-old George Alvarez, officials said Monday.
Brownsville Police Chief Felix Sauceda told reporters Monday that Alvarez has been arraigned on eight counts of manslaughter and 10 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. On Sunday, reports came in of a Range Rover striking more than a dozen people near a bus stop in front of Brownsville’s Ozanam Center.
Sauceda said Alvarez, who had an “extensive rap sheet,” ran a red light and lost control of the vehicle, which flipped on its side before it hit the group of pedestrians. It’s not clear if the act was intentional and officials are investigating, he said.
The suspect, Sauceda added, then attempted to “flee the scene” after the crash. He was apprehended by several people and “held down,” the chief added.
Alvarez is being held on a $3.6 million bond, Sauceda said, adding that the suspect has not been cooperative. Officials are awaiting toxicology reports to determine whether he was under the influence.
During the news conference, Brownsville Police displayed what appeared to be Alvarez’s rap sheet, showing a range of charges against him. Previously, Alvarez has been charged with counts of assault, aggravated assault, drug possession, vehicle burglary, driving while intoxicated, theft, resisting arrest, and more, according to a poster that officials displayed Monday.
Officials said Sunday that the victims appeared to mostly be illegal immigrants from Venezuela. A witness, also from Venezuela, told NBC News that he believes the driver shouted an expletive about “migrants” at the people standing at the bus stop and raised his middle finger at them.
Sauceda told the news outlet that officials couldn’t validate claims that Alvarez yelled expletives at the illegal immigrants at the scene. Brownsville, located in the southern portion of Texas, is on the U.S-Mexico border and has seen a surge in illegal immigration in recent years, namely with the reversal and expiration of a range of Trump-era policies.
Brownsville police investigator Martin Sandoval told reporters on Sunday that police did not know whether the crash was intentional. But the suspect has been largely uncooperative, he also said.
“It could be intoxication; it could be an accident; or it could be intentional. In order for us to find out exactly what happened, we have to eliminate the other two,” Sandoval told reporters. “He’s being very uncooperative at the hospital, but he will be transported to our city jail as soon as he gets released.”
Meanwhile, in a Twitter post on Sunday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Public Affairs Assistant Secretary Marsha Espinosa wrote that Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas “has been briefed on the tragic situation in Brownsville and has reached out to local leaders to offer condolences and the full support of the Department.”
Shelter director Victor Maldonado said the SUV ran up onto the curb, flipped, and moved for about 200 feet as it struck pedestrians on the street.
“This SUV, a Range Rover, just ran the light that was about 100 feet away and just went through the people who were sitting there in the bus stop,” said Maldonado, who cited the shelter’s surveillance video for his claims.
Maldonado then alleged that his shelter has received threats after the fatal mass casualty crash on Sunday. He didn’t elaborate.
“I’ve had a couple of people come by the gate and tell the security guard that the reason this happened was because of us,” Maldonado said.
The incident comes just days before the federal Title 42 policy is set to expire, which officials say will likely lead to a widespread surge in illegal crossing of the U.S.–Mexico border. Officials in Brownsville, too, have said that there has been a surge in illegal aliens from Venezuela in recent weeks before declaring an emergency.
“The declaration is to address the influx of migrants crossing the Texas-Mexico border, south of Brownsville. The declaration extension continues to proactively address the influx of crossings and to support and alleviate the process and transfer of migrants in a humanitarian way; while supporting federal agencies,” the city wrote on its website in a recent declaration.
During a visit to the area last week, Mayorkas said that authorities faced “extremely challenging” circumstances along the border with Mexico days before Title 42 restrictions end. A surge of Venezuelan illegal immigrants through South Texas, particularly in and around Brownsville, has occurred over the last two weeks for reasons that Mayorkas said were unclear.
On Thursday, 4,000 of about 6,000 migrants in Border Patrol custody in Rio Grande Valley, Texas, were Venezuelan. Mayorkas noted that Mexico agreed this week to continue taking back Venezuelans who enter the United States illegally after asylum restrictions end Thursday, along with Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans. Illegal immigrants have been expelled from the United States more than 2.8 million times since March 2020 under what is known as Title 42 authority.
More than 2 million illegal immigrants have been expelled from the U.S.-Mexico border via Title 42, according to reports.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.