A truck travels along the stretch of gravel road near La Joya, Texas, Friday Oct. 26, 2012, where a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter and sharpshooter assisted the previous day in the chase of a suspected illegal immigrant smuggler. Two people in the fleeing vehicle were killed and a third was wounded. (AP Photo/Chris Sherman)
LA JOYA, Texas – Authorities are investigating a shooting in southern Texas in which a Texas state trooper killed two people during a chase through the desert. The officer said he was trying to disable the vehicle and suspected it was being used to smuggle drugs, authorities said Friday.
The disclosure came a day after the incident left two people dead and two wounded on an isolated gravel road near the town of La Joya (HOY'-yah), just north of the Mexico border.
The pickup truck was first encountered Thursday by state game wardens, who believed it was occupied by undocumented immigrants. When the driver refused to stop, the game wardens radioed for help, and a state police helicopter with a sharpshooter was the first to respond, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokesman Mike Cox.
This incident surprises us because we had never seen force being used from a helicopter. ... What had happened in the past were car pursuits and, in some cases, the shooting of undocumented persons.
- Rita Claverie, Guatemala's deputy minister of foreign relations
In a statement, the Texas Department of Public Safety said the truck appeared to be a carrying a "typical covered drug load" on its bed and was travelling at reckless speeds.
After the shots were fired, the truck stopped. Seven Guatemalans were arrested, and no drugs were found.
The nationalities of the dead and of an eighth person arrested later were not immediately released.
The officer who fired the shots has been placed on administrative leave, which is standard operating procedure in fatal shootings.
Diplomats quickly began their own investigation into the chase.
Rita Claverie, Guatemala's deputy minister of foreign relations, said her government will demand an explanation from the U.S.
"This incident surprises us because we had never seen force being used from a helicopter. ... What had happened in the past were car pursuits and, in some cases, the shooting of undocumented persons," Claverie said.
Humberto Palacios head of protection and investigations at the Guatemalan consulate in McAllen, said the consulate was looking into the matter and would ask authorities to establish what happened.
Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Texas, called on state officials to investigate.
"If initial reports are accurate, the DPS has started executing persons who they merely suspect of the civil offense of unlawful entry into the United States."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.