Police release 4 who had fled van

By News Sentinel staff
LOUDON - Four of six suspected illegal immigrants who fled from authorities after the van they were in was stopped Monday morning on Interstate 75 were captured Tuesday morning but then released, an official said.

Authorities with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were contacted but declined to retrieve the suspects, District Attorney General Russell Johnson said.

"There were no state charges on which to hold the four, who were merely passengers in the operation," Johnson stated in a news release. "State and local agencies have no authority or ability to deport illegal aliens, so they were released."

Still missing: the driver and co-driver of what was Johnson called an "illegal human-trafficking operation."

Those two men, paid to transport the passengers, also are allegedly illegal immigrants from Mexico, officials said.

Ten people were in the van when it was stopped near the Sugar Limb Road exit of I-75 Monday morning.

Six of them fled on foot "in unison" when authorities with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrived, said John Sanchez, investigator with the 9th Judicial District.

The incident sparked a massive manhunt that included police dogs and a helicopter from the Knox County Sheriff's Office.

Sanchez said Loudon County sheriff's deputies nabbed the four suspects Tuesday morning after a resident reported seeing them walking along New Providence Road.

The suspected illegal immigrants told authorities they were traveling from Texas to Knoxville, where they had been promised work in a restaurant.

Traffic stop uncovers apparent human smuggling operation in Loudon County
Here's part of the group that was in the van. (source: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

LOUDON (WATE) - A traffic stop on Interstate 40 in Loudon County Monday morning uncovered an apparent human smuggling operation, according to officials with the Ninth Judicial Task Force.

Officers pulled over a van on I-75 northbound by the Sugarlimb Road exit with eight men and two women in it.

Officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrived and prepared to have the van towed, but all 10 people started to run.

Officials said they are all undocumented.

Four of the people were caught and taken into federal custody.

Officers are still looking for the driver and the man in the front passenger seat, among others.

Officers with the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Lenoir City Police Department, Loudon County Sheriff's Office and the Knox County Sheriff's Office helped at the scene.

Six who fled suspected of being illegal immigrants

By News Sentinel staff
LOUDON - Authorities throughout the day Monday - using a helicopter and special tracking dogs - searched for six suspected illegal immigrants who fled "in unison" on foot after a traffic stop on Interstate 75 in Loudon County.
The escapees were among 10 undocumented Mexicans detained after the minivan they were in was stopped for traffic violations as they were traveling from Texas to Knoxville.

The northbound van was pulled over by a member of the 9th Judicial District's Drug Task Force Interdiction Team about 10 a.m. near the Sugar Limb Road exit, authorities said.

All but one of the suspects said they had been promised employment in a Knoxville restaurant, said investigator John Sanchez.

Officials were still processing the suspects and didn't have sufficient handcuffs to secure them when officials with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement arrived, said District Attorney General Russell Johnson.

"In unison, they started running toward the tree line," Sanchez said.

"The chase was on."

Four of the suspects were apprehended, while the other six managed to escape, Sanchez said.