6th homicide suspect arrested in Arizona smuggling ring

2013-08-31T00:00:00Z 2013-09-03T02:15:38Z 6th homicide suspect arrested in Arizona smuggling ringBy Kimberly Matas Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A sixth suspect has been arrested in connection with a human-smuggling ring that left one illegal border crosser dead.

Gerald Alan Turner, 39, was arrested Thursday in Phoenix by members of the U.S. marshals fugitive task force. He was booked into the Maricopa County jail on a probation violation but faces charges of homicide, kidnapping and human smuggling in the July death of a border crosser.

Earlier this month five other suspects, all Phoenix residents, were arrested in connection with the smuggling ring: Nathan Lamb, 25, Elizabeth Kay, 25, Yolanda Banda, 48, Gerad Punch, 28, and Enrique Morales Velazquez, 53. All five also face homicide charges.

Authorities learned about the “large-scale human smuggling ring out of Mexico” on July 7, when deputies were called to the Bowlin Travel Center off Interstate 10 near Picacho Peak, about 45 miles northwest of Tucson in reference to suspicious activity involving a U-Haul truck, Tim Gaffney, spokesman for the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, said in a news release.

Lamb, the driver of the truck, and his girlfriend, Kay, had picked up more than a dozen illegal immigrants — each of whom had paid $5,000 — in Douglas that morning, loaded them into the back of the truck and were driving them to Phoenix, when they heard pounding from the cargo area.

They pulled over and found many of them suffering the effects of heat-related illnesses. The temperature in the back of the truck was estimated to be 180 degrees or higher, Gaffney said.

Lamb, Kay, and about a half-dozen immigrants ran into the desert to hide. They were found later by U.S. Border Patrol agents.

Those who stayed behind were too ill to flee.

When deputies arrived at the truck stop, they found eight Hispanic men and women near or inside the truck, Gaffney said. Three of the immigrants — one of whom later died — were in critical condition and airlifted to a hospital. Five others were taken to hospitals by ambulance.

In total, 11 immigrants were taken into custody. Six of the injured were issued temporary papers to reside in the United States until the end of the trial in the smuggling case, Gaffney said. The other five immigrants were returned to Mexico, along with the body of the deceased immigrant.

Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at kmatas@azstarnet.com or 573-4191.

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