The Main Stream

Jun 11, 2010 3:28 PM

Pinal Co. Sheriff: Murdered pair most likely ambushed by fellow smugglers

PHOENIX (AP) - Two men shot and killed in a remote desert area about 50 miles south of Phoenix were probably ambushed by fellow smugglers, Pinal County sheriff's officials said Friday.

The men had been at a migrant camp in the desert south of Interstate 8 near Antelope Peak on Sunday night when someone opened fire on them with an AK-47-type weapon, shooting each man once, said sheriff's spokeswoman Lt. Tamatha Villar.

One died immediately, but the other managed to get off six shots with an AR-15-type rifle. The wounded man then used a cell phone to call for help.

The man talked to 911 dispatchers for nearly half an hour before he either passed out or died, Villar said. He told them he was near the spot where a deputy was shot and wounded on April 30.

The area is a well-known corridor for smugglers bringing drugs and illegal immigrants from southern Arizona north to the Phoenix area.

The men and their assailants were likely either smugglers or there to steal drug loads from smugglers. No suspects have been identified, and the chances of solving the case are slim, Villar said.

Both men have been tentatively identified and are believed to be from Mexico. The medical examiner's and sheriff's office are working with the Mexican consulate to confirm their identities.

The men had been at the migrant camp for a while and had food and other supplies at the site. They were shot several hundred yards from the camp.

The wounded man was hit in the pelvis and apparently bled to death while talking to sheriff's dispatchers, Villar said.

The victim was apparently very familiar with the area, because he repeatedly told dispatchers trying to pinpoint his location that he was at or the near the site where Deputy Louie Puroll was shotduring an apparent confrontation with smugglers six weeks ago.

"They know what's going on in the area; that's their office," Villar said.

The man was dead when deputies reached the site more than four hours later.

Transcripts of the 911 calls the man made showed he knew he was severely wounded and was trying to direct rescuers to his location. The man spoke Spanish, and the sheriff's office provided the translated transcript.

"Where are you," the dispatcher asks early in the series of calls.

"Right here where they shot the sheriff, on this side. By the store, there's a little hill please send a (boludo/sheriff) because there are some people, they want to jump us, they want to rob us and somebody shot us," the man said.

The call was dropped several times and then re-established, with the man who identified himself as "Omar" apparently getting weaker as he pleaded for help and told the dispatcher he was bleeding profusely. The man's complete name was blacked out in the transcripts.

The call ended with the man moaning and praying, "Are you going to come and get me? I can't speak a lot anymore. I am bleeding a lot. Please! (moaning) (praying) just let me die."

The deputy's shooting came amid a growing national debate over Arizona's new law cracking down on illegal immigration. A backlash over the law has erupted with civil rights activists, concerned it will lead to racial profiling, calling for protests and boycotts.

Sheriff's officials have said that Puroll was alone in the area monitoring smuggling activity on April 30 when he spotted armed smugglers carrying bales of marijuana in makeshift backpacks. Before other deputies could arrive, Puroll told investigators one of the smugglers opened fire with an AK-47, slightly wounding him. The deputy returned fire.

Sheriff Paul Babeu said Sunday's shooting was the latest example of drug violence reaching into Arizona. He repeated his call for federal help to control the border.

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