- Getty Images/John Moore
- The death of Rogelio Martinez, a 36-year-old border patrol agent, has prompted speculation of an “attack” and fueled calls from top Republicans for increased border security.
- A Texas sheriff who responded to the November 18 incident, however, said it’s more likely Martinez and his partner were sideswiped by a tractor-trailer.
- The unions aren’t accepting that explanation.
The sudden, mysterious death of a border patrol agent that some have blamed on undocumented immigrants or drug traffickers was more likely a truck accident, a Texas sheriff said.
Rogelio Martinez, 36, died November 18 shortly after first responders found him and his partner badly injured near a drainage culvert along Interstate 10 in Van Horn, Texas. Authorities said both men suffered traumatic head injuries, and that Martinez’s partner has no memory of the incident.
Top Republicans – including President Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and the state’s Gov. Greg Abbot – immediately seized on Martinez’s death as evidence that the US-Mexico border is insufficiently secured. They called his death an “attack” or an “ambush.”
“Border Patrol Officer killed at Southern Border, another badly hurt,” Trump tweeted November 19. “We will seek out and bring to justice those responsible. We will, and must, build the Wall!”
But Culberson County Sheriff Oscar Carrillo, who was one of the first responders to the scene on the night of the incident, told the Dallas Morning News that he believes it’s more likely that a tractor-trailer accidentally sideswiped the two agents as they stood near the culvert.
Officials from the federal Customs and Border Protection agency have said that Martinez and his partner were “responding to activity” near the culvert before they were injured.
Interstate 10 – the southernmost cross-country highway in the US – is just feet away from the culvert. Carrillo said it’s heavily traveled by truckers, and such accidents are common.
“If this was an assault, believe me, as sheriff, I’d be the first one out there emphasizing safety in our community and with our deputies, pairing them up,” Carrillo told the newspaper. “But from what I know and see, that was not the case here.”
Labor unions representing border patrol agents have told media that Martinez and his partner were attacked with rocks.
“The injuries to Martinez could not have happened the way the media has been trying to portray,” Stuart Harris, vice president of the Border Patrol Council Local 1929, told the Dallas Morning News. “Agent Martinez was ultimately murdered. The agents were tracking footprints and were ultimately ambushed, and assaulted by, I don’t know who, but it could have been illegal immigrants or drug traffickers.”
Harris added that the injuries Martinez sustained were “far more severe” than an accident could have caused, and he said he doubted that the same accident could happen to both agents.
The FBI is offering a $25,000 reward for information that could lead to the case’s resolution. Special agent-in-charge Emmerson Buie Jr. said at a press conference that the incident is being investigated as a “potential assault” but they could not rule out other causes.
Carrillo said he is eager to see what Martinez’s full autopsy report will reveal, though the El Paso medical examiner’s office said it may take weeks.
“Just because you die doesn’t mean all is lost,” Carrillo said. “The body can tell a story.”