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Abandoned boat believed used for smuggling immigrants found on Aliso Beach

December 31, 2009 | 10:04 am

An abandoned capsized boat found on Aliso Beach is believed to have carried at least a dozen illegal immigrants who made their way to shore and to a waiting van, Laguna Beach police said.

The 18-foot skiff was discovered by a resident at about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday. He said he saw the boat wash ashore and that several people ran out of it, some of them wearing life jackets, said Lt. Jason Kravetz.

Kravetz said that when officers arrived, they found numerous life jackets and gasoline canisters, some with some gas still inside, sprinkled along the shoreline. A waterlogged GPS unit was also found on the beach.

“There were markings on some of the evidence that it came from Mexico, but no evidence that’s where the people came from,” Kravetz said. “[They were] very sophisticated as far as using GPS.”

Officers followed a trail of wet footprints and sand into the Aliso Creek area, where more life jackets were  found.

Kravetz said the group from the boat apparently proceeded up a dirt path that leads from a parking lot to a residential area and made their way toward Monterey Street, where a vehicle picked them up. Footprints indicate they got into the vehicle on multiple sides, which led investigators to believe that it was a large van, he said.

"Someone could have met them at the beach and led them up,” Kravetz said. “They wouldn’t have known how to get there.”

Officers called the Sheriff's Department's Harbor Patrol to look for other vessels, but no others were found, he said. Authorities also contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which took custody of the boat. The boat sank and had to be pulled out of the water.

Kravetz said officials are on alert and that there could be more of these smuggling voyages. On Nov. 11, Laguna Beach police dealt with a similar incident, Kravetz said. A 28-foot empty skiff was found a mile away from where the Aliso Beach boat was found, he said. Life jackets and fuel containers were also found.

Authorities searched the area using a helicopter, Kravetz said, and Coast Guard officials were notified, but no one was found in the water.

The case has been turned over to ICE, he said.

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy