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Texas pilot sentenced to prison for crashing plane and seriously injuring 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 Texas pilot who crashed his small plane during a failed smuggling attempt and seriously injured the undocumented immigrants he was transporting has been sentenced to serve under two years in federal prison.

Tobias Penner Peters, 46, had faced up to two decades in prison, but U.S. District Judge David Counts of the Western District of Texas found 21 months in prison plus three years of supervised release to be the appropriate punishment.

The plane crash occurred on Dec. 30, 2021, not long after Peters took off from Presidio Airport minutes away from the U.S.-Mexico border, the Department of Justice said in February. Peters made a run south of the border while the five unidentified undocumented immigrants aboard were left behind injured at the crash scene, the feds said.

At the time of the crash, the Presidio County Sheriff’s Office put out a wanted poster noting that Peters was on the run and emphasizing that the then-suspect was “believe[d] to have severe head trauma and possibly lost an eye during the event.” Peters turned himself in at the Presidio Port of Entry three months after the crash, however.

The pilot, of Seminole, Texas, had faced up to 20 years in prison because the failed smuggling operation caused serious bodily injury.

“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 its lone statement on the case. Unlike the news of the February guilty plea, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas did not mention the sentence in a follow-up press release on its website.

Judge Counts, a Donald Trump appointee, handed down the sentence on April 24. The court docket shows that a restitution hearing is set to take place in Alpine, Texas at 8 a.m. on May 23.

Findings of fact filed in and accepted by the court said 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.”

Peters pleaded guilty only to count two of the indictment against him. Upon the guilty plea, the judge dismissed count one — a conspiracy charge — with prejudice, the court docket shows.

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