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Authorities: Traffic stop of suspected illegal immigrants part of human-smuggling operation

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By The Staff

From staff reports

Authorities are saying the Wednesday morning traffic stop of a van carrying a group of suspected illegal immigrants was part of a human-smuggling operation that originated in Houston.

The van was stopped near the 362 exit of Interstate 40 in East Roane County. According to a press release from the 9th Judicial District Drug Task Force, the suspects were headed to New York.

Task force agent Jon Wilson reportedly noticed the van traveling recklessly on the interstate. Task force agents, along with officers from the Roane County Sheriff’s Office and Kingston Police Department, stopped the van near the Roane Regional Business and Technology Park. Inside, they found 18 suspected illegal immigrants.

"We started calling them out," Wilson said. "They just kept coming."

The suspected illegals were reportedly from Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras. One was a 15-year-old boy.

The van had a California license plate. A computer background check showed it was stolen from Los Angeles. The driver of the van was identified as Juan Carlos Vega Hernandez. He was arrested and taken to the Roane County Jail on a theft charge. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was contacted and took the other 17 suspected illegal immigrants into custody.

Federal charges for human smuggling could be pending.