Alleged human smugglers, undocumented immigrants busted after traffic stop

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CHANDLER and QUEEN CREEK, Ariz. – Sixteen suspected undocumented immigrants and two alleged coyotes are in custody after an early morning traffic stop turned into a human smuggling bust.

Officers with the Department of Public Safety and the Chandler Police Department converged on the area near Chandler Heights and McQueen roads in Chandler and the area of Gantzel and Combs roads in Queen Creek shortly before 6 a.m.

It started just before 5:30 a.m. when DPS officers with the Auto Theft Task Force tried to stop two vehicles heading into Phoenix from Casa Grande.

"What we're looking for as a task force is stolen vehicles because stolen vehicles are used to transport drugs, weapons and undocumented aliens," said DPS Sgt. Steve Wamsley.

Twelve undocumented immigrants, some of whom were hidden under plywood, were found in one of the vehicles, which was stopped in the area of Chandler Heights and McQueen roads. There were 10 men, including the driver, one woman and a 9-year-old girl.

While the driver, a suspected coyote, did run away, he was caught a short time later thanks to a call from a neighborhood resident.

The second vehicle was stopped about 10 miles away in the area of Gantzel and Combs roads in Queen Creek.

Five men, including the driver, and one woman were taken into custody there.

Several more people reportedly did get away from that truck, but they are not believed to be dangerous.

According to DPS spokesman Bart Graves, the people had been in the desert for three days and were quite dehydrated.

DPS investigators are still trying to determine if the vehicles were indeed stolen.

"We don't have any weapons, but we do have undocumented aliens from other countries," Wamsley said.

The suspects, who are believed to be from Mexico and Guatemala, have been turned over to ICE.

No injuries were reported.