A traffic stop on U.S. 1 in Marathon early Monday morning led to the discovery of 32 suspected Cuban migrants, according to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.
The department said a sergeant with the sheriff’s office stopped a rental truck hauling a boat after noticing that it was traveling below the speed limit.
Inside the truck were four adults and three young children. The children, ages 1, 4 and 5, were not wearing seat belts or in car seats, according to the sheriff’s office. The sergeant also noted that there was an “overwhelming smell of saltwater and body odor.”
And in the boat?
There were more than two dozen people hiding in a room in the bow of the boat, the sheriff’s office said. Among those found: a 17-year-old and two pregnant women.
The driver of the truck, Reidel Garcia-Espino, 29, of Seffner, Florida, was arrested and charged with child neglect because the children were not restrained. Garcia-Espino told deputies they went fishing — but according to the sheriff’s office there was no gear in the boat.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security Investigations agents, along with Key Colony Beach Police and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers, responded.
The suspected migrants were taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
It has been a busy few days for the Border Patrol in the Keys. On Sunday morning, a group of 17 people from Cuba came ashore on Smathers Beach in Key West. A Key West resident captured footage of the landing on his cellphone camera.
Also on Sunday, four Cuban migrants arrived near Bahia Honda State Park near Big Pine Key, which is about 36 miles north of Key West.
On Thursday, a group of 13 Cuban migrants were taken into custody shortly after they arrived in Big Pine Key.
Maritime migration from Cuba to South Florida has spiked substantially this year. Federal officials track migration by the fiscal year, which begins and ends in October.
In all of fiscal year 2020, the Coast Guard said it stopped a total of 49 people from Cuba attempting to make the dangerous journey across the Florida Straits.
In fiscal year 2021, the number was just shy of 840 people, according to the Coast Guard.