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Deputy catches van full of illegals
Texas vehicle bound for Chicago stopped in Limestone County

By Holly Hollman 340-2445

ATHENS — A Limestone County deputy caught 14 illegals crammed into a 12-passenger van Wednesday, and Sheriff Mike Blakely said the men didn't even have "one toothbrush between them."

Just before 3 p.m., Deputy Rick Oliver was patrolling Interstate 65 when he spotted the van at the 342 mile-marker near Interstate 565.

"The driver was driving erratically, and the Texas tag was expired," Oliver said.

Oliver also noticed the van had a Department of Transportation sticker, and he has certification to do inspections on DOT vehicles.

When Oliver looked inside, he found two drivers and 14 passengers. The two drivers have commercial driver licenses from Texas but are originally from Cuba.

"They said they left their green cards back home in Texas," Blakely said. "I don't know if they're really legal or not, but they knew what they were hauling. They're what we call coyotes."

Coyote is a term used to describe those who transport illegals.

According to their driver licenses, the two drivers are Josvany Perez Lopez, 31, of 13502 Verbena Lane, Houston, and Pavel Sarmiento Bello, 25, of 10300 Harwin 801, Houston.

The 14 passengers had no identification. They are Hispanic males who appear to be in their 20s and 30s. The van had the name Paisanos Van Lines painted on the door.

Blakely and Oliver said the drivers finally confessed that they were making $300 per passenger to transport the men from Houston to Chicago. They did not say where in Chicago they were going.

"The drivers had shaving kits, but the passengers had nothing, no luggage, nothing," Blakely said.

Oliver said the van left Houston on Tuesday night.

"I don't know if they got regular bathroom breaks," Oliver said. "The drivers told us they stopped to sleep at a rest stop in Mississippi."

Blakely said he is not charging either the passengers or the drivers but is holding them for Immigration and Naturalization Services.

"As a general rule, we get zero assistance from them on removing illegals unless they are charged with a felony and are to be deported after their sentences," Blakely said. "During President Clinton's administration, coyotes were prosecuted. Now, we can't get help."

The sheriff said the INS office in Birmingham was to pick up the drivers and passengers Wednesday night.

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