ENCINAL, Texas — A high speed chase through two south Texas counties ends with a shocking discovery—a 22-year-old woman trapped in a duffle bag inside a burning vehicle.
As the car burst into flames, law enforcement officers rushed in to save her life.
Encinal Police said the chase started outside Laredo and ended outside of Encinal off an I-35 access road. A suspected human smuggling tried to evade officers, the chase crossing from Webb County into LaSalle County reaching speeds of over 130 mph.
Encinal Police Chief Pablo Balboa said he was doing administrative work in his office on the morning of March 23 when he jumped in to help Border Patrol track down a driver suspected of human smuggling.
He said the driver finally came to a stop, abandoning his SUV at a dead end road and ran off on foot.
While officers searched nearby for the driver, the SUV burst into flames, and Balboa checked the SUV for anyone left inside.
Officers caught the suspected human smuggler just a few minutes after Balboa said after the preliminary search couldn’t find anyone in the vehicle.
“He's screaming there's somebody in the back, somebody in the back,” said Balboa recalling what that driver told officers as the flames were quickly spreading.
DPS body cam video caught the moments officers rushed into save a young woman’s life, believed to still be in the vehicle.
DPS Sgt. Geraro Hinojosa quickly grabbed his baton to break out the back window, the only access to the back as the car continued to burn.
The only thing they found in the back was a large black duffle bag in the back.
Hinojosa said there wasn’t any sounds coming from the bag or any movement.
“We knew there was something in the bag, but we didn't know what was in there,” said Hinojosa.
“When I unzippered it, there was a female looking up,” he added.
Inside the bag, officers had discovered a 22-year-old woman, her country of origin unknown, but officials said she was not a U.S. citizen.
“She was trapped inside that zippered bag and it would have been just a matter of time before we would not be able to save her,” said Hinojosa.
Balboa and Hinojosa said it was a joint effort of law enforcement racing against the clock to save the young woman.
“We would have never gotten the screams out of our heads had we not saved her,” said Balboa. “It would have been something that would have lived with us forever.”
The flames giving officers only seconds to save her life. Less than a minute later, Hinojosa said, the car was completely engulfed in flames.
“It burned all the way to the ground. It was nothing but bare metal,” said Hinojosa.
Balboa recalled the woman’s shock when they rescued her from the burning car.
“She didn't say anything to us. I wonder why,” said Balboa. “Was she instructed not to say anything? Was she told you to remain quiet?.”
The flames from the burning vehicle ignited a grass fire that inched closer to a rest-stop nearby.
The field of ashes left behind is a grim reminder, Balbao said, how the surge in human smuggling has impacted his little town.
“She was just in that duffle bag like a piece of clothing,” said Balboa. “The emotion that I had when she came out to tell you the truth was anger. Anger because these people do not care.”
It’s unclear if the man driving the SUV is facing any charges. Both the driver and young woman were turned over to Border Patrol custody.
“It’s human smuggling, but could be human trafficking as well. And, what makes this case unique is that there was only one immigrant there,” said Hinojosa. “So, what were their intentions or what were they going to do with her? We don't know.”
“We have different uniforms, but we're all after the same goal and that's to preserve property and save lives,” he added.