Sheriff's deputies arrest illegal immigrants hiding in pickup truck; driver escapes

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CORDES JUNCTION, Ariz. -- Yavapai County sheriff's deputies arrested 12 suspected illegal immigrants during a traffic stop on Interstate 17 near Cordes Junction Wednesday afternoon.

According to Yavapai County sheriff's spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn, a deputy stopped a Nissan pickup truck regarding a vehicle registration and equipment violation on I-17 at milepost 260.

In addition to the driver, the deputy noticed six additional occupants crammed inside the cab of the truck.

The driver indicated that he did not speak English well and was unlicensed. He identified himself as Francisco Mateo-Sanchez, 21, and said he was heading to Flagstaff.

As the deputy began lifting the bed cover to check for additional passengers, the driver suddenly darted across the highway and into the desert out of sight. An assisting deputy was prevented from chasing the driver due to oncoming truck traffic.

Deputies found six passengers lying head to toe in the truck's cargo bed. D'Evelyn said the cover had been propped open with a couple of bricks and had a belt affixed to the opening mechanism so the cover could be held down.

Deputies contacted Immigrations and Custom Enforcement Officers (ICE) who conducted phone interviews and determined all the occupants were illegal immigrants. All 12 were detained and transported to the Camp Verde Jail pending transfer to ICE custody. The vehicle was impounded.

Deputies learned that three of the illegal immigrants were juveniles and three called Brazil their home country, deciding to enter the U.S. at the Mexico border.

The driver who fled was not located.