Guillermo Contreras, Malak Silmi
San Antonio Express-News
The San Antonio Express-News has confirmed that authorities are investigating the deadly Sunday crash that killed TikTok star Gabriel Salazar and three Mexican nationals as a human smuggling attempt.
Sources verified that the Texas Department of Public Safety has internally listed Salazar’s three passengers as undocumented foreigners, and the agency started separate traffic fatality and criminal investigations.
“Yeah, it’s a smuggling situation is what it looks like,” said one law enforcement source familiar with the case. “We’ve had smuggling crashes in Del Rio and by Eagle Pass, Uvalde, but the majority are there in Carrizo and Crystal City, along (Highway) 83 all the way down to Ashton.”
Separately, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations said it assisted Zavala County law enforcement with a crash on that date, and has a parallel investigation, but stopped short of confirming Salazar was the driver. It referred questions about the matter to DPS.
“On September 26, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Eagle Pass, Texas, assisted Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) in Zavala County with a vehicular accident which occurred near LaPryor, Texas, that resulted in the death of four individuals,” HSI said in a written statement. “The incident is suspected of being a possible human smuggling event. No additional details are being released at this time; as the criminal investigation remains ongoing.”
Another police source verified that there was only one fatal crash that killed four people on that day, and it was the one that killed Salazar and the three passengers.
According to DPS, a Crystal City police officer attempted to pull over a white Chevrolet Camaro on U.S. 83 at about 1:20 a.m. Sunday. Officials said the driver did not stop and continued traveling north toward La Pryor, which is about 98 miles southwest of San Antonio.
The Camaro was headed north and trying to evade police, when it left the roadway into the grassy area of the highway, according to a DPS report. The driver over-corrected and crossed over to the opposite grassy shoulder.
It then hit trees in the southbound brush line and rolled over several times before landing on its roof, according to the report. The vehicle then caught fire, and all four occupants died. The passengers were identified as Jose Luis Jimenez-Mora, 41; Jose Molina-Lara, 23; and Sergio Espinoza-Flores, 36. Their hometowns in Mexico were not available.
“Obviously, (police) didn’t get to catch up to them and they crashed out,” said one of the sources, who asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation and the widespread media attention the matter has attracted. “Intel will gather whatever they can get, and CID (criminal investigations division) wll get involved because of the suspicion of illegal activity.”
While the pursuit involved a local department, pursuits involving smugglers and the Texas DPS have increased this year. Since Gov. Greg Abbott and the DPS launched ” Operation Lone Star” earlier this year to target smugglers, there have been 711 vehicle pursuits, with the busiest in and around Del Rio and the Rio Grande Valley, regional DPS director Victor Escalón said at a media briefing in September.
The Del Rio section of the border has had 375 pursuits from January through August, up from 32 during the same period last year, he said. He added that the Rio Grande Valley had 206 pursuits from January through August, up from 143 last year.
“There’s more people coming across, more troopers, more pursuits,” Escalón said. “It’s inevitable.”
Salazar’s last post on Instagram was Sept. 24 of a photo of him standing in front of a white Camaro.
Salazar is known as Gabenotbabee on TikTok and has over 1 million followers and over 85 million likes on the social media platform. Since Sunday night, Salazar’s Instagram and TikTok posts have been flooded with fans sharing their condolences.
His family has since not responded to media inquiries.
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