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Romanian charged with human smuggling after crash injures 7 near B.C.-Washington border

The Jeep allegedly driven by Ionel Niculae was involved in a serious two-vehicle crash approximately four kilometres south of the Canadian border in Washington state. (U.S. Customs and Border Patrol) The Jeep allegedly driven by Ionel Niculae was involved in a serious two-vehicle crash approximately four kilometres south of the Canadian border in Washington state. (U.S. Customs and Border Patrol)
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A 48-year-old man is facing 13 federal charges in the United States after allegedly smuggling six Romanian citizens over the British Columbia border into Washington state.

American officials say illegal crossings at the B.C.-Washington border are growing more common and more dangerous.

Ionel Niculae, who is also known as Adrian Dumitrescu, was charged this week with six counts of aiding and abetting the improper entry of an undocumented individual. He is also facing three charges of bringing an undocumented person into the U.S. at a place other than a designated port of entry; three counts of bringing an undocumented person into the U.S. causing serious bodily injury; and one count of improper entry by an undocumented person.

The Romanian man was taken into custody at an accident scene near Sumas, Wash., on Sept. 17.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents say Niculae drove a Jeep carrying six passengers across a berry field into the U.S. near the Sumas border crossing, south of Abbotsford, B.C.

A camera on the Washington side of the border captured the vehicle's illegal crossing, according to the U.S. district attorney's office for western Washington.

The same Jeep was spotted by Canadian officials crossing illegally into B.C. three days earlier, according to the district attorney.

As border agents pursued the Jeep into the U.S., the Sumas Police Department alerted the agents to a serious rollover crash in which the Jeep allegedly ran a stop sign and struck an SUV approximately four kilometres south of the Canadian border.

All six passengers in the Jeep were taken to hospital, along with the driver of the SUV.

Tessa M. Gorman, acting U.S. attorney for western Washington, says the driver who was struck by the Jeep is still recovering from injuries sustained in the crash.

"We are responding to an increase in dangerous smuggling events on our northern border," Gorman said in a statement. "This case illustrates how these illegal smuggling efforts endanger not only those being smuggled into the U.S., but also others travelling near the border."

Thee passengers in the Jeep suffered broken bones, including two with broken pelvises and one with a broken leg. Niculae was not injured, according to the district attorney.

"This incident underscores the risks to innocent members of our community, and the challenges we face in safeguarding our borders and keeping our communities safe," Chief Rosario Vasquez of the Blaine Sector Border Patrol said in a statement.

"Events like this highlight the disregard smugglers have for human life."

On Nov. 9, border patrol agents from Blaine, Wash., arrested two Romanian citizens suspected of smuggling a dozen other Romanians into the U.S., including seven children under the age of 14 who were found in the rear of an SUV.

U.S. border agents from Blaine, Wash., arrested two Romanian citizens suspected of smuggling 12 Romanians into the U.S., including seven children under the age of 14 who were found in the rear of an SUV, on Nov. 9, 2023. (U.S. Customs and Border Patrol)

U.S. Homeland Security investigator Robert Hammer, who oversees the department's investigations in the Pacific Northwest, says investigations into human-smuggling rings have become a priority in the region.

"We have seen an uptick in the number of human smuggling events here in Washington state along our northern border with Canada," he said.

If convicted, Niculae faces up to 20 years in prison on each of the most serious charges of human-smuggling causing bodily injury, and up to 10 years in prison on the charges of bringing an undocumented person into the U.S. outside of a port of entry.

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