5 In custody, 1 on the loose in U-Haul human smuggling casePosted: Updated:
PINAL COUNTY, Ariz. – Five people are in custody in connection with a human smuggling operation that turned deadly for one man. The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office has an arrest warrant for a sixth suspect, and they need your help to find him.
This goes back to the afternoon of Sunday, July 7, when PCSO received a call about a U-Haul box truck stopped at the Bowlins Travel Center along Interstate 10 near Picacho Peak. The person who called 911 reported seeing people "falling out and staggering" as they tried to get out of the truck.
When deputies arrived on the scene, they found eight people, each of whom had paid $5,000 to be transported to Phoenix in the back of that truck. All of them were suffering from heat exhaustion. Three were in critical condition and had to be air-lifted from the scene. One man later died. The remaining five were transported by ground ambulances.
In addition to the eight people who were taken to local hospitals, witnesses reported seeing as many as six people walking east into the desert. Members of the Border Patrol caught up with those people and took them to the Border Patrol station in Casa Grande to be interviewed.
The victims who were found with the U-Haul told deputies that the driver and his female passenger had picked up 12 to 14 people in Douglas. During the ride, several of those people became severely overheated and dehydrated. The temperature inside the cargo area of the box truck was estimated to be 180 degrees.
Deputies arrested the driver of the U-Haul, Nathan Lamb, 25, of Phoenix, and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Kay, also 25, of Phoenix. Kay was in the passenger seat.
According to PCSO, both admitted to transporting people who were in the U.S. illegally. They told deputies they heard “pounding and banging” from the back of the box truck as they drove. When they finally stopped, they saw that the victims were in extremely bad shape and fled the scene.
Nearly two weeks later, deputies, with the help of the Phoenix Police Department, arrested Yolanda Banda, 48, of Phoenix, believing her to be the one who planned the smuggling operation.
The next day, Phoenix police made a fourth arrest in the case – Gerad Punch, 28, of Phoenix.
Earlier this week, Phoenix police arrested Enrique Morales Velazquez, 53, a Mexican national living in Phoenix, in connection with the case.
Investigators have not said how Punch or Velazquez are connected to the case.
There is one more suspect on the loose. PCSO officials say they are looking for Gerald Allen Turner, 39, of Phoenix.
“There is an outstanding felony warrant for his arrest for murder,” according to a PCSO news release. “He is to be considered armed and dangerous.”
PCSO is asking anyone with information about Turner or his whereabouts to call 911.
Lamb, Kay, Banda, Punch and Velazquez all face a variety of charges, including endangerment, assault, conspiracy, human smuggling, kidnapping and murder.