YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

California and the West

INS Agent Dies in Crash on Way to Help Border Officer


IMPERIAL COUNTY — A veteran immigration agent was killed Thursday when his car collided with a semi as he sped toward a truckload of suspected illegal immigrants.

John Orellana, 51, an anti-smuggling agent with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, had been based in Santa Ana but was working the Salton City area in response to a dramatic increase in immigrant smuggling there.

Orellana was responding to a call for backup from a Border Patrol agent when the patrol car collided with the 18-wheeler at 2 a.m. The crash was at the intersection of California 86 and 22, about 70 miles north of El Centro, said CHP Officer Roland Pritchard.

Orellana was dead on arrival at Pioneers Memorial Hospital in nearby Brawley.

It was not immediately clear how fast either vehicle was traveling. A CHP team is investigating the crash, but no citation had been issued by late Thursday. Neither the driver nor a passenger of the semi was injured, Pritchard said.

Orellana was responding to a frantic call from a Border Patrol agent who had stopped a pickup truck full of suspected illegal immigrants, Pritchard said. More than a dozen passengers had jumped out of the truck and were scattering. No one who fled was caught, said INS spokesman Bill Strassberger.

Since border enforcement was stepped up near San Diego three years ago, smugglers increasingly have used the Imperial Valley to move immigrants north, said INS spokesman Bill Strassberger.

In the last week, agents stopped three semis in the area, each holding more than 100 illegal immigrants.

To counter the trend, Orellana and other INS agents were sent to El Centro in October for temporary duty, while an additional 100 agents were trained to work the area.

Orellana, who lived in Corona with his wife, Aura, and three children, had worked for the INS for more than 20 years. He began his career as a Border Patrol agent in San Diego in 1975. He also served as an immigration inspector and examiner before starting work as a special agent in 1992.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Times staff writers Bonnie Hayes and H.G. Reza contributed to this story.

Los Angeles Times Articles