Pinal County deputies disrupt drug and human trafficking in Vekol Valley

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

VEKOL VALLEY, Ariz. -- The Pinal County Sheriff's Office continues to disrupt drug and human trafficking operations in an area called Vekol Valley.

The sheriff's office released information and pictures from several busts in the past few weeks.

On Nov. 17, deputies discovered a 2002 Ford F250 truck driving with no lights in the desert area. Deputies followed the vehicle for a short distance but the truck fled. The truck had been reported stolen by a Phoenix resident. Deputies located the vehicle abandoned a short time later. The rear tail lights were smashed out and the paint was badly damaged after being driven through the thick desert brush. Deputies said the vehicle appeared to have been used to transport illegal immigrants.

Deputies attempted to stop a 2000 Chevy minivan near Interstate 8. The vehicle fled and was traveling more than 100 mph. Deputies backed away from the vehicle because of the dangerous driving. The vehicle was located abandoned a short time later. Deputies followed foot tracks from the vehicle and took a 17-year-old illegal immigrant into custody. The van was packed with 11 bundles of marijuana and an additional bundle was located near the suspect.

On Nov. 18, deputies observed three trucks traveling in a row near I-8. Deputies attempted to stop the vehicles, but they split off from each other and began to travel through the desert. The vehicles were eventually stopped and the drivers were taken into custody. One of the drivers attempted to escape by jumping into a canal but came out because of the cold water. The vehicles were headed to I-8 to pick up loads of illegal immigrants.

Deputies observed seven individuals carrying large brown burlap bundles on their backs near I-8. As deputies attempted to contact them, they fled into the desert. Six of them dropped their backpacks and were able to get away. Ernesto Salazar, 29, ran with his backpack and was taken into custody. Salazar told deputies he was in the United States illegally from Caborca, Mexico. Deputies seized 350 pounds of marijuana.

On Nov. 19, deputies located two abandoned trucks in the desert loaded with marijuana. Both trucks were reported stolen. The trucks contained a total of 3,700 pounds of marijuana.

On Nov. 21
, deputies stopped a Ford Explorer that contained 10 bundles of marijuana. Three suspects were taken into custody. The total weight of the marijuana was 240 pounds.

Deputies stopped a vehicle with seven illegal immigrants. They were turned over to U.S. Border Patrol.

An abandoned truck was located in the desert area with 1,750 pounds of marijuana.

On Nov. 22, deputies observed a Ford F250 driving with no lights near I-8. The vehicle contained approximately 50 illegal immigrants in the cab and bed of the truck. All of the individuals fled when deputies attempted to stop the vehicle. Six were taken into custody and turned over to U.S. Border Patrol. One of the individuals attempted to escape by jumping into a canal and had to be rescued by deputies.

Deputies located six people hiding in a wash near I-8. Deputies also recovered communications equipment and 14 bundles of marijuana. The total weight of the marijuana was 220 pounds.

Deputies located three trucks loaded with 2,035 pounds of marijuana.

On Nov. 23, six illegal immigrants were located in a residential neighborhood with marijuana backpacks. They were taken into custody. The total weight of the marijuana was 246 pounds.

On Nov. 27, deputies were involved in two separate vehicle pursuits. Both trucks eventually stopped and both drivers were taken into custody. The total weight of the marijuana was 2,140 pounds.

On Nov. 28, deputies were called regarding a body in the desert. Saul Soto-Aguirre, 29, of Morellia, Michoacan, Mexico, reported he, the deceased and four other individuals had paid a guide $1,300 each to lead them into the United States from Mexico. All of them had been walking for the three days and had not eaten in two days. The 42-year-old victim fell while walking and the remainder of the group and guides continued on. Deputies followed the foot tracks of the other four, but they disappeared once they hit I-8. Soto-Aguirre was turned over to the Border Patrol.

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said he will continue to direct resources to the Vekol Valley area.

"The men and women of the Pinal County Sheriff's Office are doing all that we can to help stop the continuous flow of drugs and human trafficking from Mexico," he said.