Mexican investigator probing border lake shooting is slain

Print
Email
|

by APRIL CASTRO and OLGA RODRIGUEZ

Associated Press

Posted on October 12, 2010 at 4:17 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 12 at 7:48 PM

Falcon Lake

View larger map

AUSTIN (AP) — A Mexican police commander investigating the disappearance of an American tourist on a border lake plagued by pirates was killed, U.S. and Mexican officials said Tuesday.

Rolando Flores, the commander of state investigators in Ciudad Miguel Aleman who was part of a group investigating the reported shooting of David Hartley, was slain, said Ruben Rios, spokesman for the Tamaulipas state prosecutor's office.

Rios said authorities "don't know how or why he was killed. We don't have any details on how he died."

U.S. officials have said threats from drug gangs who control the area around Falcon Lake have hampered the search for Hartley.

Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday that backing off when confronted by threats like the slaying of the police commander is "the worst thing we can do."

"I think their attempt is to intimidate law enforcement, no matter who they are or where they are," Perry told The Associated Press. Their message is to "stay out of their territory."

"The worst thing we can do is let the terrorists dictate the terms of how we're going to live."

Perry said the threat should be handled by upping "the numbers of law enforcement and military."

Hartley's wife, Tiffany, says she and her husband were attacked by pirates on the lake on Sept. 30, while they were returning to the United States from Mexico on Jet Skis. Hartley was shot and presumably fell into the lake.

U.S. officials, particularly Perry, and Hartley's family have been pressuring Mexico to step up the search for Hartley and determine what happened.

Fred Garza, chief deputy sheriff in Webb County, on the Texas-Mexico border, said the search was continuing Tuesday.

Falcon Lake is a dammed section of the Rio Grande, 25 miles long and 3 miles across. Pirates have robbed boaters and fisherman on the Mexican side, prompting warnings to Americans by Texas state officials, but Hartley's death would mark the first violent fatality on the lake.

Tiffany Hartley said men on three speedboats fired on her and her husband as they were riding Jet Skis back from a trip to Tamaulipas to photograph a half-submerged church, and that her husband was shot in the head. She said she tried to retrieve his body and his Jet Ski but the pirates continued firing and she fled to the U.S. side. Zapata County, Texas, Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez has said he has an eyewitness who corroborates her account.

Dennis Hartley, David Hartley's father, expressed shock and regret at Flores' killing.

"I just, I'm in shock about this right now," he told The Associated Press from his Colorado home. "I really don't have any hope that David will be found. I really hate other people putting their lives at stake. We don't need more sons lost. If this is true, I'm just really heart broken that this happened."

The Mexican Foreign Ministry says it has been using federal, state and local resources, including the military and helicopters, to search for Hartley's body and opened an investigation. Over the weekend, authorities named two possible suspects.

That part of Tamaulipas state is overrun by violence from a turf battle between the Gulf Cartel and the Zeta drug gang, made up of former Mexican special forces soldiers, and both are battling the Mexican military.

Last week, Perry had asked Mexican President Felipe Calderon to call him within 48 hours and said that he expected a body to have been recovered by then. Perry also said last week that even the threat of drug gang violence against search crews was no reason to halt the efforts.

Meanwhile, Rios said no suspects have been identified in the case and said he wouldn't comment on why a state investigator had already named two suspects. On Sunday, state investigator Juan Carlos Ballesteros, who is assigned to Ciudad Miguel Aleman, said police believe brothers Juan Pedro and Jose Manuel Zaldivar Farias may have killed Hartley. Ballesteros didn't answer calls seeking comment Tuesday.

———

Rodriguez reported from Mexico City. Associated Press Writer P. Solomon Banda contributed to this report from Denver.

Print
Email
|