Smuggler faces life sentence after illegal drowns in Rio Grande in Laredo

Court documents reveal that a human smuggler has pled guilty to letting an illegal immigrant drown in the Rio Grande as he guided a group.

32 year-old Luis Amado Morales-Melendez, from Guatemala, pleaded guilty to transporting immigrants resulting in death. He remains in custody, pending sentencing on March 24 before a U.S. District Judge. Morales-Melendez faces up to life in prison.

The incident occurred at around 2 a.m. on August 22, when U.S. Border Patrol agents from Laredo Sector Texas encountered 12 people swimming across the Rio Grande near Zebra Creek in Laredo.

On August 27, Border Patrol agents interviewed three members of the group. The trio identified Luis Amado Morales-Melendez as the foot guide who guided them across the Rio Grande into the United States. The agents discovered that a man identified as Melvin Feliz-Ramirez drowned during that crossing. His body was recovered from the river on August 23, on the Mexican side of the river.

Two of the witnesses stated that the defendant saw Feliz-Ramirez struggling to stay afloat while yelling for help, but didn't attempt to rescue him by offering aid or using a rope. The U.S. Attorney’s Office says that Luis Amado Morales-Melendez denied hearing anyone call for help. Some life jackets were available but not enough for everyone, according to authorities.

Quoting a statement by the prosecution, LMTOnline relates that Morales-Melendez admitted to crossing the Rio Grande with the group and acting as a foot guide on the American side. As part of his plea, Morales-Mendez acknowledged receiving a discount on his own smuggling fee, in exchange for serving as a foot guide after the group crossed into the United States.