Those waiting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border Saturday morning were met with major delays after a carjacking and officer-involved shooting shut down the busy crossing at Otay Mesa in southern San Diego.
At 9:40 a.m., California Highway Patrol officials confirmed the border crossing was closed due to a carjacking incident. Officials said the suspect may have rammed the stolen vehicle into a structure of some sort near the border.
The San Diego Police Department took over the investigation.
An SDPD sergeant told NBC 7 that Saturday’s incident began with a carjacking around 9:15 a.m. in the 4500 block of Border Village Drive, in the parking lot of the Baja Duty Free store.
A woman was sitting in the passenger seat of a Toyota Tacoma truck that was parked with the engine running when an unknown man got into the driver’s seat.
Officials said the woman's 7-year-old son was in the back seat of the truck, and the woman begged the suspect to let her and the child get out. As the woman was halfway out and attempting to get her son, the suspect put the car into reverse.
Seconds later, the mother and son got out and the man took off in the stolen vehicle, driving east on State Route 905. Authorities were called and a high-speed pursuit ensued, with the suspect heading toward the border crossing.
Officers ordered the suspect to stop, and while he initially complied, he soon decided to take off east on the 905 freeway, toward the Otay Mesa Border Crossing.
SDPD homicide Capt. Al Guaderrama said a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer then fired one round at the suspect’s truck, hitting the rear view window.
Guaderrama said the suspect and the vehicle then fled into Mexico. A short time later, authorities located the stolen vehicle, but the suspect was gone. He remains at large, Guaderrama said, and SDPD investigators are working with authorities in Mexico to identify and locate the suspect.
Homicide investigators were on scene because that is official protocol after any officer-involved shooting. Guaderrama said investigators do not believe the suspect was struck or injured by the shot. The officer who fired also was not injured.
The captain said the suspect is described as a Hispanic man in his early 30s, approximately 5-foot-8, with a heavy build. He was wearing a white T-shirt at the time of the carjacking and did not brandish a weapon.
Officials said they weren't sure how long the shutdown at the border crossing would last, or how long delays would be for those trying to cross into Mexico on the start of this holiday weekend.
Guaderrama said police realize the traffic jam was an inconvenience for travelers on a long weekend, but said the seriousness of the carjacking, pursuit and all that followed required a lengthy investigation in the area.
As of 11 a.m., U.S. Customs and Border Protection San Diego (CBP) tweeted that the southbound crossing at Otay Mesa into Mexico was still closed, while the northbound crossing into the U.S. remained opened.
NBC 7 crews heard the wait would be about five hours, with traffic backed up to Palm Avenue.
Spring Valley resident Jailene Rodriguez was on her way to visit family in Mexico when traffic at the Otay Mesa crossing came to a complete standstill.
"We're trying to go into TJ, but it's closed," she lamented. "We're late to see our family. We'll just have to wait."
Many drivers turned around at the crossing and decided to make their way to the San Ysidro Port of Entry instead, hoping there was less of a wait there.
“It’s going to be while. We’re going to head back to San Ysidro,” said Samuel Rosas, a Tijuana resident visiting San Diego and trying to get back home to Mexico.
Another traveler coming from Fresno, Calif., was on her way to visit family in Mexico too when she got struck in the bumper-to-bumper traffic.
“This is surprising. I don’t know what to do at this point," she said.
At around 12:40 p.m., CBP officials tweeted that the southbound pedestrian egress into Mexico was open, but no word on the traffic lanes.
At 1:15 p.m., Caltrans said all lanes that were closed due to police activity had reopened at the Otay Mesa border crossing.
NBC 7 spoke with the mother involved in the carjacking incident, Liz Luna.
Luna said she was in the car with her son, Justin Alarcon, parked at the Baja Duty Free store when the suspect got into the vehicle. Luna said her boyfriend had just gotten out to meet her in-laws and left the truck running.
Luna said the suspect calmly told her to get out of the car. That's when she pleaded to get her son out of the back seat. The suspect began driving away slowly and Luna said she held onto the truck, screaming for her son.
She said the suspect then screamed back in Spanish to get her son while struggling to unlock the door. Luna finally unlocked the back door and grabbed her son, and the suspect took off in the truck.
Photo Credit: Travis Mackenzie