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Travis Smith

By all accounts, Travis Smith took every possible precaution for the return leg of a June 2002 road trip. He charged his cell phone and signed up for roadside assistance. He packed the night before and left early to avoid midday traffic and the summer heat.

But 19-year-old Smith never made it to his home in Mesa, Ariz. Near Monticello, his 1966 Ford Mustang was struck head-on by a vehicle driven by Isidro Aranda-Flores, an undocumented immigrant who was transporting four other illegal aliens to Pennsylvania.

Smith was killed in the crash, as well as 62-year-old Bernarda Gordillo, a passenger in Aranda-Flores' vehicle.

On Wednesday, Aranda-Flores was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison for causing the accident. He pleaded guilty in December to a single count of transporting illegal aliens resulting in death.

Smith did everything he could to prepare for his drive to Arizona, his mother, Tanya Lowe, said Wednesday. And as he left Lowe's home on the morning of June 16, his thoughts were on his mother.

"I said a prayer and gave him a hug, and he told me not to cry because I always cried when he left," said Lowe, of Colorado. "Travis did everything right. He was a good boy and he did everything right."

The sentiment was shared by Smith's stepmother, who recounted waiting for Smith to return home in anticipation for his upcoming year in college.

"Travis was a young man taking his first step," Elaine Smith said. "And he did everything right."

U.S. District Judge David Sam on Wednesday granted prosecutors' request to increase Aranda-Flores' prison time based on recklessness. Aranda-Flores intentionally left Phoenix at night and avoided the interstate to evade authorities, Sam said. As the sole driver, he drove for nearly nine hours and apparently fell asleep at the wheel.

However, the judge also found that Aranda-Flores did not intentionally cause the accident that killed Smith and Gordillo. He also noted that Aranda-Flores' passengers did not fit the profile of a typical alien smuggling operation. Each had lived in the United States for some time — seven to 10 years, according to defense attorney Sharon Preston — and were returning to their homes and families.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney David Backman agreed that the case was atypical. "In this case, as compared to most illegal alien smuggling cases, there is a U.S. citizen who was killed in illegal activity. Out of nothing that had to do with him, he was driving down the road and a car runs head-on into him."

Lowe said she has struggled to make sense of the accident and Smith's role in it.

"People say my son was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," she said. "My son was not in the wrong place at the wrong time . . . The illegal person transporting illegals was in the wrong place at the wrong time."


E-mail: awelling@desnews.com