Border Patrol and U.S. Customs agents Monday night seized 969 pounds of cocaine with a street value of $60 million from "human mules" who were transporting the drug across the U.S.-Mexico border just southeast of Imperial Beach, authorities announced Tuesday.
But the only person arrested in connection with the case was a 17-year-old from Tijuana, as the others carrying the drug fled from police and ran back into Mexico, said Harold Ezell, regional commissioner for the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The youth was carrying a 100-pound duffel bag containing packages of cocaine, authorities said. He is being held on suspicion of importing a controlled substance and possession with intent to distribute, Ezell said. Authorities are considering trying the 17-year-old as an adult. If convicted, he could face a minimum 10-year prison sentence, he said.
Border Patrol agents and a U.S. Customs special agent were working in the area of Monument Road and Hollister Street, about half a mile from the border, when they caught the teen-ager in a canyon. As he was being arrested, officers said they heard other people fleeing south toward Mexico, dropping their duffel bags as they ran.
With the assistance of a drug-sniffing dog named Woody, the officers found nine duffel bags filled with cocaine scattered over an eighth of a mile.
"We're very pleased with the cooperation between our agency and the U.S. Customs," said Dale Cozart, chief patrol agent of the San Diego Border Patrol. "We hope to see other seizures of this same magnitude."
The seizure is the second-largest in the San Diego area for the Border Patrol, Cozart said. The largest seizure was 1,285 pounds of cocaine confiscated in September, 1986, near Jacumba.
Steven Trent, a Customs official in charge of the San Ysidro station, said: "This shows increased effort and pressure put on traffickers to get cocaine into the United States when they would carry this bulk across on foot."