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Texas pilot faces decades in federal prison after admitting he crashed plane and seriously injured undocumented immigrants in failed smuggling attempt


Tobias Peters

Tobias Penner Peters and pictures of the plane involved [Images via Presidio County Sheriff’s Office]

A 46-year-old Texas pilot pleaded guilty late last week to a federal crime in connection with a Dec. 30, 2021, plane crash that exposed his attempted smuggling of five undocumented immigrants.

Tobias Penner Peters admitted Thursday that he crashed a small plane with five undocumented immigrants aboard not long after taking off from Presidio Airport, located mere minutes from the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the Department of Justice. Peters made a run south of the border while the unidentified undocumented immigrants were left behind injured at the crash scene, the feds said.

At the time, the Presidio County Sheriff’s Office put out a wanted poster noting that Peters was on the run.

“PETERS attempted to smuggle five undocumented individuals into the United States using an aircraft. PETERS lost control of the aircraft causing an aviation accident North of the Presidio Airport,” local authorities said. “PETERS then fled the scene left multiple individuals at the scene with severe bodily injuries. PETERS is believes to have severe head trauma and possibly lost an eye during the event.”

Peters’ time on the lam lasted only three months, however. Federal authorities said he turned himself in at the Presidio Port of Entry.

Court documents show that Peters pleaded guilty to violating 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(ii), which says the following:

Domestic Transporting — Subsection 1324(a)(1)(A)(ii) makes it an offense for any person who — knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien has come to, entered, or remains in the United States in violation of law, transports, or moves or attempts to transport or move such alien within the United States by means of transportation or otherwise, in furtherance of such violation of law.

Peters, who hails from Seminole, Texas, faces up to 20 years in prison because he jeopardized the lives or caused serious bodily injury to the undocumented immigrants [see (B)(iii)].

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“One of the undocumented individuals injured in the crash suffered a back injury, was life-flighted to an El Paso hospital and remains in a wheelchair today,” the DOJ noted in a press release.

The findings of fact filed in court and signed by a federal magistrate judge noted that the guilty plea was knowing and voluntary, that Peters was “fully competent and capable of entering an informed plea,” that he was “aware of the nature of the charges and the consequences,” and that the guilty plea was “supported by an independent basis in fact containing each of the essential elements of the offense.”

The court specifically pointed out in a footnote that Peters was warned he faces up to two decades behind bars and a fine of up to $250,000.

The federal docket in the case indicated sentencing was set for 8 a.m. on April 25 in U.S. District Judge David Counts’ courtroom.

Law&Crime reached out to Peters’ attorney for comment on the resolution of the case.

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.