(Brownsville) “Manslaughter” charges were opened on Monday against a driver who the day before killed eight people when his car mowed down a group of pedestrians gathered outside a migrant reception center in an American town bordering the Mexico.
“The investigation is continuing” and the charges against George Alvarez could be changed at a later date, Brownsville Police Chief Felix Sauceda said at a press conference.
Investigators in this South Texas city are awaiting the results of toxicological analyzes carried out on this 34-year-old man “with a heavy criminal record”, who has already been arrested for assault, burglary or driving while intoxicated.
Sunday, shortly after 8 a.m. (9 a.m. EST), he “ran a red light, lost control of his vehicle, rolled over and hit 18 people,” Sauceda said. Six died on the spot and two in hospital.
The victims are all male and include several Venezuelans. “We are working with the government of Venezuela and we have also made contact with other embassies”, in particular to identify them, said the police chief.
After committing his carnage, George Alvarez had tried to flee but witnesses had prevented him. When they arrived, the police arrested him and transferred him to a hospital to treat his injuries. On Monday, he was taken into custody.
On Sunday, a witness told AFP that he had uttered insults before accelerating on the small group of migrants.
“Everything happened suddenly. A lady, who was driving by, told us to move aside […]. The assassin arrived in the car pointing at us, insulting us,” said Luis Herrera, a 36-year-old Venezuelan with an arm injury.
Asked about this on Monday, the police chief said he had no evidence to confirm these accusations. However, the investigators have not yet ruled out, at this stage, the hypothesis of an intentional act.
The arrival of migrants at the southern border of the United States regularly causes tension, and sometimes violence. In 2018, a white supremacist killed 23 people with an assault rifle at a supermarket popular with the Hispanic community in the city of El Paso.
However, the American authorities are preparing to lift, on Thursday, a health measure called “Title 42”, adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic and which has made it possible for three years to deport millions of migrants without delay.
Its expiry raises fears of a resurgence of illegal entries into the United States and the Republican opposition tirelessly denounces a “crisis” at the border.
The victims were part of a group of around 25 people who were waiting at a bus stop outside a homeless shelter, which currently hosts many migrants, its director Victor Maldonado told AFP.
According to him, they were Venezuelans, who had just had their breakfast at the center.
“Suddenly this SUV came at very high speed, hit the curb and split the group,” he said.
He described to AFP a scene of horror, with body parts scattered in the street, and witnesses “completely in shock”. The driver “tried to run away but the residents [of the center] caught up to him and immobilized him”, he added.
The center is open 24 hours a day, and currently hosts migrants from Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, China and Ukraine, as well as many Venezuelans, Maldonado said.