The circumstances surrounding the death of Rogelio “Roger” Martinez are still wrapped in mystery after even an autopsy raised new questions. What is clear is that Martinez (36) was injured and died on the evening of November 18 while patrolling alone just 12 miles east of Van Horn and 130 miles east of El Paso, Texas, near Interstate 10, where he had stopped his vehicle.
Both Martinez and another Border Patrol agent, Stephen "Michael" Garland (38), were found bleeding and injured near a concrete-lined 9-foot deep culvert that ran beneath a road in rural Culberson County, not far from the Mexican border. Garland and Martinez had been patrolling separately. According to the Border Patrol, it is not clear why the two agents wound up at the same place.
Martinez responded to a triggered sensor, according to the FBI, which may have indicated cross-border movement. Border Patrol agents claim that they hear him radio a report that he had found signs of activity and went to investigate signs of migrants or smugglers, according to investigators. Martinez then called in Garland.
When they were found at about 11:20 p.m. on November 18, Martinez exhibited traumatic head injuries, as well as broken bones. Found at the bottom of the culvert, Martinez was airlifted by a helicopter ambulance to an El Paso hospital where he died just a few hours later. Garland was also injured. He survived his injuries but told the FBI that he does not remember the incident that resulted in his injuries and the death of Martinez.
According to the FBI, when Garland called a Border Patrol dispatcher on the phone, he seemed to be disoriented. The FBI said, "The second Border Patrol agent also made a statement to the effect of, 'We ran into a culvert,' 'I ran into a culvert,' or 'I think I ran into a culvert.'" Garland told the dispatcher that he and Martinez had been injured. The dispatch instructed him to wait in his vehicle and turn on his emergency lights so that he could be found by first responders. Garland would tell investigators that the last thing he remembered was leaving home for his shift on the night of the incident, according to investigative reports.
Garland’s wife told authorities that she receive a cell phone call from her husband from the scene, who seemed disoriented and confused.
"The FBI has investigated multiple theories, including whether the Border Patrol agents were ambushed or attacked or whether their injuries were as a result of an accident or any other relevant criminal activity," said FBI El Paso Special Agent in Charge Emmerson Buie Jr. "None of the more than 650 interviews completed, locations searched or evidence collected and analyzed have produced evidence that would support the existence of a scuffle, altercation, or attack."
A search warrant unsealed in New Mexico revealed that while Border Patrol agents were investigating two illegal aliens -- brothers suspected of drug trafficking -- had attacked Garland and Martinez, the FBI declared on Wednesday that they are not connected to Martinez’s death or Garland’s injuries.
The FBI has looked into the theory that Garland and Martinez may have fought each other, but has not conclusively determined how the two agents wound up at the bottom of the concrete-lined culvert. Martinez died as a result of blunt trauma injuries to his head, but a medical examiner ruled that the manner of his death remains undetermined. He also had significant injuries to his jaw and skull, as well as his upper ribs and right clavicle. The El Paso County Medical Examiner's Office reported that Martinez had a significant bruise on his right shoulder and a dark discoloration behind his right ear. There were also lacerations on his scalp.
An examination of Martinez’s blood showed that he had a small amount of butalbital -- a barbiturate -- in his system. Butalbital is sometimes used in combination with acetaminophen or aspirin to control pain and headaches. Side effects include loss of coordination and drowsiness.
Despite the growing mystery, the National Border Patrol Council -- which represents Border Patrol agents -- maintains that Martinez and Garland were ambushed, a view that is shared by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R). Union officials claim that the culvert in question is used by smugglers while trekking north after entering the U.S. about 50 miles south. One union official has theorized that the two agents were battered by rocks dropped by criminals.
However, Sheriff Oscar Carrillo of Culberson County, who responded to the call on the night of the incident, has said that the scene did not resemble an attack. Martinez’s fiancee told CNN she does not understand how he could have died as a result of a fall. She indicated that Agent Garland may know more. While Garland is now walking with the aid of a cane, his injuries have healed and show no visible scarring. Meanwhile, he has been cooperating with the FBI in its investigation, but has difficulty recalling the particulars of the tragedy.
State and federal officials are offering a reward of $70,000 reward for information regarding the incident. Federal authorities have widened their search to several states and are asking for help from Texas all the way to southern California.
Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.