Sixteen people traveling in a van designed to seat seven were sent to the Whitfield County jail last week to await possible deportation after a Tunnel Hill police officer stopped the van on Interstate 75.
According to an incident report, Lt. Scott Reneau believed the driver and a front seat passenger were using the van to smuggle individuals into the country from Guatemala and El Salvador. Reneau said he stopped the Nissan Quest after he saw it cross the dividing lines on I-75 near Rocky Face without actually changing lanes Thursday afternoon.
When Reneau stopped the vehicle, the report states, the driver said he did not speak English, and the only driver’s license and registration he could produce were from Mexico.
The other passengers, all Hispanic — one of them a woman — were sitting on the floor and shoulder to shoulder, according to the report, and there was a “pee jug” inside the van. None except the driver, later booked as Carlos Martinez-Rocho, 26, of Guatemala, had identification.
Reneau said he spoke in Spanish to the driver who told him the travelers were construction workers coming from Houston and going to Atlanta to work.
“It made no sense for them to be on this end of I-75 if they were coming from Houston going to Atlanta unless they were trying to avoid law enforcement on I-10,” Reneau wrote in his report. “This route was a longer route.”
Reneau said he also talked to the front seat passenger. Because everyone was dressed fairly nicely and their hands were smooth, they didn’t appear to be construction workers. An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) worker was contacted, and the 16 were placed on hold at the jail and are expected to be deported, Reneau said.
He said at least one person had been deported once before.