Human trafficking ring crash: Six more men caught

MANATEE -- Of the eight men who jumped out of a van after a traffic crash at the intersection at State Road 64 East and 48th Street Court East on Tuesday, all but one now are in custody.

The first person captured shortly after the crash told agents that the van was part of a human trafficking operation that originated in Mexico, according to Border Patrol Agent Steve McDonald.

A manhunt for the others was called off after more than six hours, but six of the men were found later Tuesday night in the area near The Inlets subdivision off S.R. 64 and turned over to federal authorities, according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

At one point during the search, six schools in the area were on lockdown, said schools spokeswoman Margi Nanney, but the security measure had been lifted by the regular time of dismissal.

The incident started about 11 a.m. when Joe Barbato's vehicle was hit by the van at the intersection of State Road 64 East and 48th Street Court East. After the collision, he said he looked up and saw several people run away.

Johnnie Charles, who was at a nearby car wash, said he heard the crash and saw several people running out of the van. Charles, who said at least one of the people was carrying a gun, ran after one of the people but fell before he could tackle him.

The Border Patrol arrived moments later to begin a search.

McDonald said the suspect in custody told Border Patrol agents that the group had crossed into the United States at the Arizona border. McDonald did not say where the group might have been heading.