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Phoenix man accused of transporting undocumented immigrants in southern AZ

Posted at 2:20 PM, Apr 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-07 17:20:48-04

COCHISE COUNTY, AZ — A Phoenix man is facing multiple charges involving undocumented immigrants.

At around 3:00 p.m. Tuesday, the Cochise County Sheriff's Office was notified about a vehicle that was possibly loading and transporting undocumented immigrants near Kings Ranch Road and Highway 92, south of Sierra Vista.

Sheriff Mark Dannels spotted the suspected vehicle, described as a maroon Dodge truck with Arizona plates, on Highway 92 near Ash Canyon heading southbound.

The sheriff reported the vehicle was traveling well above the posted speed limit for that area and attempted a traffic stop near Three Canyons and Highway 92, however as Sheriff Dannels and another patrol vehicle approached the truck and the driver sped away heading northbound.

CCSO says the vehicle then turned onto Emory Oak Ridge and continued at a high rate of speed on the dirt road before stopping just before a home.

The occupants jumped out and ran toward the home, but one man was immediately taken into custody near the truck, according to CCSO.

A second man was located behind the home and taken into custody. Officials say he made a statement to deputies that the other occupants "had guns and made me do it."

The house was searched as a safety measure for other occupants but nobody was found.

Deputies continued searching for the other occupants with the assistance of the U.S. Border Patrol and Arizona Highway Patrol, resulting in another man being taken into custody.

Initial interviews of the men revealed two of them were undocumented immigrants who were identified and released to the U.S. Border Patrol, while the third man was identified as a U.S. citizen and the driver of the truck.

He has been identified as 23-year-old Dustin Howerton of Phoenix.

Officials say Howerton told deputies he was with two other U.S. citizens and they were supposed to pick up people at a designated location. He said one of those men was armed and threatened him during the attempted traffic stop which caused him to speed away.

CCSO says the undocumented immigrants were interviewed and provided additional details that were not consistent with the information provided by Howerton, and no weapons were located.

Investigators located a fanny pack belonging to Howerton which contained pills and items used to ingest drugs.

Howerton was transported to Copper Queen hospital and had blood drawn as part of a DUI investigation. He was then transported to Bisbee Jail where he was processed.

He remains in jail on charges which include felony flight, possession of a controlled substance, aggravated DUI, criminal trespassing, and more.