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Man sentenced to more than 20 years for deadly smuggling-related chase

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Posted at 2:55 PM, Feb 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-05 17:55:59-05

EL CAJON (CNS) - A man who led Border Patrol agents on a high-speed pursuit that ended with a crash near Boulevard that killed three passengers and injured seven others was sentenced today to nearly 21 years behind bars.

Luis Alberto Virgen, 22, pleaded guilty last fall to voluntary manslaughter and reckless driving for the Nov. 29, 2018, late afternoon crash on westbound Interstate 8 that killed Celerino Jimenez-Flores, 34, Jorge Garcia- Isordia, 22, and Erika Gonzalez-Cardoso, 38.

Virgen, who was initially charged with second-degree murder, was the only one in the passenger-packed truck wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash, according to the California Highway Patrol. All of his passengers were ejected from the Chevrolet Silverado.

San Diego County Superior Court Judge Robert O. Amador imposed the stipulated 20-year, eight-month sentence, calling the case "a tragedy'' in which the victims sought "a better life in this country, and instead, three people lost their lives because (Virgen) fled.''

Amador noted that Virgen sped off, driving at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour, when federal personnel tried to get him to pull over near the Mexican border in eastern San Diego County.

With the agents giving chase, Virgen entered Interstate 8 at Buckman Springs Road and fled to the east briefly before exiting at Ribbonwood Road and re-entering the freeway, this time headed west, according to the Border Patrol.

After fleeing for several more miles, the suspect ran over a tire- flattening spike strip that agents had laid across the roadway in his path east of Crestwood Road. About a minute later, the Silverado -- occupied by a single passenger in the front and the rest in the cargo bed -- veered off the interstate, went up a dirt embankment, became airborne, overturned and rolled back down the sloping roadside onto the freeway.