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Press Release

Austin Man Sentenced to 16 Years in Prison for Smuggling Attempt That Resulted in Migrant Deaths

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Texas

SAN ANTONIO – An Austin man was sentenced in a federal court in San Antonio to 192 months in prison for one count of conspiracy to transport aliens resulting in death and 120 months for one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The two sentences will run concurrently.

According to court documents, on April 24, 2022, Joseph Alex Hernandez, 27, sped away from and attempted to evade Medina County Sheriff’s deputies for approximately seven minutes after they attempted a traffic stop. Hernandez reached speeds between 90 and 100 mph along the highway and access road, crossing the steep grassy median several times, and running a red traffic light. A rear tire on his vehicle eventually gave out, and Hernandez lost control, resulting in the vehicle crashing after flipping multiple times in the grassy median.

Hernandez had been transporting 13 undocumented noncitizens during the chase, including eight who were laying down in the covered truck bed. Three of the passengers were airlifted from the scene and the rest were transported via ambulance to local hospitals. While providing medical treatment, Emergency Medical Services personnel discovered that Hernandez was carrying a loaded pistol. Several days later, two of the smuggled migrants died in the hospital from their injuries.

Hernandez was charged with conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death, transportation of illegal aliens resulting in death, and being felon in possession. He pleaded guilty Oct. 23, 2023 to the conspiracy and firearm charges.

“This case is another unfortunate and tragic example of how dangerous smuggling humans across the border has become,” said U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza for the Western District of Texas. “The defendant in this case put thirteen lives at risk in an attempt to evade law enforcement. Sadly, his actions led to two of those individuals paying the ultimate price.”

“This sentencing highlights HSI’s commitment to use every tool in our arsenal to investigate and dismantle transnational criminal organizations involved with human smuggling,” said Special Agent in Charge Craig Larrabee for HSI San Antonio. “This case shows the lack of regard these organizations have for the people they have been paid to smuggle.  There will be no safe haven in our communities for criminals who seek to evade our nation's laws and whose greed results in tragedy.”

HSI and the Medina County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Brown prosecuted the case.


Updated April 4, 2024

Firearms Offenses
Human Smuggling