Border Agents Killed by Train, El Pasoan Dies

May 17, 2011
An El Pasoan was one of two U.S. Border Patrol agents killed Thursday near Gila Bend, Ariz., when their vehicle was struck by a train, officials said.

An El Pasoan was one of two U.S. Border Patrol agents killed Thursday near Gila Bend, Ariz., when their vehicle was struck by a train, officials said.

Eduardo Rojas Jr., 35, was killed when the government sport utility vehicle he and another agent were in collided with a train, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a news release issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The other agent has been identified as Hector R. Clark, 39, of Yuma, Ariz.

"On behalf of the entire U.S. Customs and Border Protection family, I would like to share our heartfelt sympathy to the family, friends and colleagues of Hector R. Clark and Eduardo Rojas Jr. as we mourn their passing," CBP Commissioner Alan D. Bersin said.

According to officials, the agents were helping other Border Patrol agents and were in pursuit of a group of possible undocumented immigrants when their vehicle ran into the train's path. The agents were in an unmarked official car when it was hit by a 75-car train. The accident happened about 7 a.m. El Paso time.

The collision occurred about nine miles west of Gila Bend at the private rail crossing of Paloma Ranch Road and the frontage road along Interstate 8. The crossing did not have crossing arms or lights, said Detective Aaron Douglas, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, which is leading the investigation.

The agents were pursuing a group traveling north on foot along a known desert corridor used by drug and human smugglers, Douglas said.

The sheriff's office later arrested six or seven undocumented immigrants near the accident site, Douglas said. They had 317 pounds of marijuana, he said, and there is a "strong possibility" these were the suspects sought by the Border Patrol.

"The agents were based out of (Customs and Border Protection's) Yuma Sector and were on duty at the time of the accident," Napolitano said. "We are working closely with the Arizona Department of Public Safety and other agencies to determine the cause of the accident."

Rojas was a 11-year veteran and a lead Border Patrol agent in the Yuma Sector. He leaves behind a wife and two children.

Clark had been with the agency since 2001. Clark also leaves behind a wife and two children.

The train was more than a mile long, weighed 4,684 tons and had 75 cars and three engines, Douglas said. It took a mile to stop after the accident.

The train was going 62 mph at the point of impact, Douglas said. The conductor told investigators that he saw an unmarked car traveling down the access road and take a left heading south across the tracks right before the accident.

The engineer and conductor also said that they always sound a horn a quarter mile from an intersection, Douglas said.

U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said the deaths of the two agents are tragic and a reminder of the dangers federal law enforcement officials face.

"As a 26-year veteran and former sector chief of the Border Patrol, I am saddened by this tragic loss, and mourn with the families and loved ones that agents Rojas and Clark leave behind," he said.

In 2008, Senior Border Patrol Agent Luis Aguilar Jr., also from El Paso, was struck and killed by a vehicle near Yuma. Aguilar was 32 at the time. He was putting down spike strips in the path of a Hummer and Ford pickup that had entered the country illegally when he was hit by the Hummer. The Hummer was driven by an alleged drug smuggler.

Aaron Bracamontes may be reached at [email protected]; 546-6156.

David Burge may be reached at [email protected]; 546-6126.

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