Coast Guard Takes 68 Haitian Survivors To Mayaguez After Deadly Illegal Voyage

SAN JUAN — Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Napier completed the transport of 68 Haitian survivors to Mayaguez, Puerto Rico Friday, who were abandoned offshore of Mona Island by smugglers Thursday morning.

Among the survivors, there are two minors. 

Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid Action marine units also transported five deceased persons to the main island of Puerto Rico, who were traveling with the survivors and perished while struggling to reach shore. Department of Natural and Environmental Resources Park Rangers on Mona Island recovered their bodies from the water.

Coast Guard Takes 68 Haitian Survivors To Mayaguez After Deadly Illegal Voyage
Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Napier’s small boat crew while completing the transfer of 68 Haitian survivors to Mayaguez, Puerto Rico July 29, 2022, who were abandoned offshore of Mona Island by smugglers the morning of July 28, 2022. (U.S. Coast Guard photo).

“While we are glad for the 68 survivors, we cannot lose sight of the fact that five lives were lost as a result of smugglers abandoning these people offshore in the dangerous waters that surround Mona Island,” said Capt. Jose Diaz, Sector San Juan commander. “Our deepest condolences to the family and friends of those who passed during this tragic incident. To anyone thinking of taking part in an illegal voyage, we urge you to not to take to the sea! Makeshift, unseaworthy vessels often grossly overloaded and unstable with no lifesaving equipment onboard, changing sea-state conditions, hypothermia, dehydration and drowning are just some of the dangers migrants face in this voyages.”

Coast Guard watchstanders received a communication at approximately 8:36 a.m. Thursday from U.S. Border Patrol Agents, relaying a report from Puerto Rico Department Park Rangers on Mona Island who reported the incident taking place just off Punta Arenas on Mona Island.

Coast Guard Takes 68 Haitian Survivors To Mayaguez After Deadly Illegal Voyage
Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Napier’s small boat crew while completing the transfer of 68 Haitian survivors to Mayaguez, Puerto Rico July 29, 2022, who were abandoned offshore of Mona Island by smugglers the morning of July 28, 2022. (U.S. Coast Guard photo).

Coast Guard watchstanders directed the launch of multiple MH-60T Jayhawk helicopters from Air Station Borinquen and initially diverted the Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Tezanos and the Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Napier to the scene. CBP Air and Marine Operations (AMO) marine units and Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid Action marine units also responded.

The survivors were received by awaiting Ramey Sector Border Patrol agents and CBP Field Operations Officers in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. They will likely be returned to their nation of origin.

Since October 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022, the Coast Guard has carried out 72 illegal voyage interdictions in the Mona Passage and waters near Puerto Rico.  Interdicted during this period, are 1,919 non-U.S. citizens including 1,414 Dominicans, 404 Haitians, 01 Cuban, 1 Ecuadorian, 52 Venezuelan, 12 Uzbek, and 35 of unknown nationalities.

Coast Guard Hands Off 36 Dominicans To A D.R. Navy Vessel

SAN JUAN — The Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Tezanos repatriated 36 Dominicans to a Dominican Republic Navy vessel Friday, following the interdiction of two separate illegal voyages in Mona Passage waters near Puerto Rico.

The interdictions are the result of ongoing local and federal multi-agency efforts in support of the Caribbean Border Interagency Group CBIG.

The Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Tezanos interdicted the first illegal voyage consisting of a 25-foot makeshift boat Thursday, which the aircrew of a Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine multi-role enforcement aircraft detected in waters northwest of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Following the interdiction, the cutter safely embarked 15 males and two females from the makeshift boat including two minors.

Coast Guard Hands Off 36 Dominicans To A D.R. Navy Vessel
The Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Tezanos is on-scene with a makeshift vessel interdicted July 28, 2022 off the northwest coast of Puerto Rico. Seventeen Dominicans, 15 male and 2 females including two minors, who were taking part in this illegal voyage were repatriated to a Dominican Republic Navy vessel July 29, 2022 along with 19 other Dominicans from a separate interdiction. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

During a second illegal voyage Thursday, the Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Tezanos interdicted a 26-foot makeshift boat, which the aircrew of a Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft detected it in waters north of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Following the interdiction, the cutter crew safely embarked 19 men and a woman from the makeshift boat.

Each of the interdicted groups were transferred to a Dominican Republic Navy vessel Friday morning for their return to the Dominican Republic.

“The Coast Guard’s resolve, and that of our partner agencies, to stop illegal voyages at sea is unwavering,” said Capt. José E. Díaz, commander of Sector San Juan. “To anyone thinking of taking part in an illegal voyage, we urge you to not to take to the sea! Makeshift, unseaworthy vessels are often grossly overloaded and unstable with no lifesaving equipment onboard, changing sea-state conditions, hypothermia, dehydration and drowning are just some of the dangers migrants face in these voyages.  Those who are caught will most likely be returned to their country of origin. Do not risk your life.” 

Coast Guard Hands Off 36 Dominicans To A D.R. Navy Vessel
The Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Tezanos is on-scene with a makeshift vessel interdicted July 28, 2022 in international waters north of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Nineteen Dominicans, 18 men and a woman, who were taking part in this illegal voyage were repatriated to a Dominican Republic Navy vessel July 29, 2022 along with 17 other Dominicans from a separate interdiction. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Since October 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022, the Coast Guard has carried out 72 illegal voyage interdictions in the Mona Passage and waters near Puerto Rico.  Interdicted during this period, are 1,919 non-U.S. citizens including 1,414 Dominicans, 404 Haitians, 01 Cuban, 1 Ecuadorian, 52 Venezuelan, 12 Uzbek, and 35 of unknown nationalities.

Cutter Joseph Tezanos is a 154-foot fast response cutter homeported in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Family members in the United States inquiring about possible family members interdicted at sea, please contact your local U.S. representative. Relatives located outside the United States please contact your local U.S. Embassy.

CBIG was formally created to unify efforts of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid Action, in their common goal of securing the borders of Puerto Rico against illegal migrant and drug smuggling.

SOCIAL SECURITY: How To Update Your Address and Phone Number Online

If you receive Social Security benefits, the easiest way to update your address and phone number is by creating a personal my Social Security account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount. Once you create your account, you can update your contact information from your preferred location. This feature is available for people who receive retirement, dependent, survivors, or disability benefits, along with Medicare enrollees.

Visit our my Social Security webpage to get started. To create an account, you must:

· be at least 18 years old.

· Provide a valid email address.

· Have a Social Security number (SSN).

· Provide a U.S. mailing address (includes military addresses, APO/FPO/DPO, AE, AP, or AA).

Once you have a valid email address, you are ready to create your personal my Social Security account. When you visit my Social Security, select the “Create an Account” button. You will have the option to create your new my Social Security account with one of our two credential partners: Login.gov or ID.me.

· Login.gov is the public’s one account for simple, secure, and private access to participating U.S. government agencies.

· ID.me is a single sign-on provider that meets the U.S. government’s online identity proofing and authentication requirements.

Please note, if you already have a Login.gov or ID.me account, you can select the appropriate button to sign in with either one to access your personal my Social Security account. If you previously verified your identity with Login.gov or ID.me, you don’t need to do so again. If you don’t have a Login.gov or ID.me account, please select the “Create an Account” link to start the one-time registration process.

If you create a new Login.gov credential, we will still complete the identity verification part, so you will need to provide some personal information to us. You will also receive an activation code from us to complete the process.

Remember, you can do much of your business with us online at www.ssa.gov/onlineservices. For more information on Social Security, access www.socialsecurity.gov, call 1-800-772-1213 or visit your local field office -which address is available at www.ssa.gov/locator/

Expert Column By Víctor Rodríguez
Public Affairs Specialist
Social Security Administration
For the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico

Office of Health Information Technology Hosts Digital Health Summit

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The Office of the Governor’s Office of Health Information Technology (OHIT) hosted its first Digital Health Summit July 26-27 at the Charles Turnbull Regional Library on St. Thomas.

The summit brought together more than 20 leading international and national health IT businesses, who sponsored the event and exhibited their solutions to attendees.

Office of Health Information Technology Hosts Digital Health Summit

Speakers also flew in from across the country from organizations like Google, Public Consulting Group,  Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Howard University, Blue Cirrus Consulting, Microsoft, Meditech, Zane Technologies, CRISP Shared Services, Prince Georges County Health Department,  CommHIT,  Audacious Inquiry, Office of the National Coordinator, Foley and Lardner, Electronic Healthcare Network Accreditation Commission (EHNAC), viNGN, Bureau of Information Technology and more. 

Office of Health Information Technology Hosts Digital Health Summit

Additional representatives from a variety of local and federal government organizations along with private sector leaders converged on the library to discuss the progression of telemedicine, challenges and needs related to interoperability and secure data exchange and the advent of the USVI Health Information Exchange (HIE) in the territory.

Office of Health Information Technology Hosts Digital Health Summit

V.I. Office of Highway Safety Gives Intoximeter Training, Certification For VIPD

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The Virgin Islands Office of Highway Safety’s (VIOHS) Police Traffic Services Program provided Intoximeter Training and Certification for 14 members of the VIPD Traffic Investigative Bureau. The EC/IR II Intoximeter instrument that the VIPD Traffic Investigative Bureau uses during field sobriety testing measures the alcohol content of a person’s breath, especially in cases of suspected impaired driving.
A rigorous two-day training for all, followed by a one-day maintenance training component for four officers, provided officers in the Traffic Investigative Bureau, with operating knowledge of the instrument as well as information about accuracy checks and calibrations. In addition, the course covered automatic sampling, insufficient breath, manual sampling, and mouth alcohol effects.

V.I. Office of Highway Safety Gives Intoximeter Training, Certification For VIPD

Additional discussions of calibration theory and the procedures for accuracy checks and calibrations were also presented. In advance of the in-person training, officers received self-study training modules which were required to be completed before class. 

Twenty-five years of experience involving Intoximeter Instruments, John Evans, technical manager at Intoximeters, Inc., in St. Louis, Missouri facilitated the training, along with John Schneider, who worked with VIOHS to coordinate the training.  

Evans is also involved with the USA National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the development of an International Recommendation on Evidential Breath Analyzers. 

He is a technical liaison to the Department of Transportation Approval Laboratory in Volpe Center, Boston for type approval of new Intoximeter instruments including the Intox EC/IR II, Alco-Sensor III RO2, ASVXL and Alco-Sensor FST. Mr. Evans is also a liaison to the US State authorities in the specification of software, testing, and approval of Intoximeter instruments. 

“Having completed this training, VIPD officers in the Traffic Investigative Bureau will improve proficiency and efficiency relative to the execution of DUI field testing and enforcement, which is imperative in court proceedings, and for their diligence, commitment, and successful certification,” stated VIPD Police Commissioner, Ray A. Martinez.  “I congratulate them. I applaud the collaborative efforts of the Chiefs of Police, the Traffic Commanders, and the Office of Highway Safety, as we all work together to curtail impaired driving in the territory. You cannot drive safely if you are impaired. If you feel different, you drive different, and this is an immense step for all of us in that regard.” 

Intoximeters, Inc. is the only authorized source from which to obtain factory certified training on the operation and maintenance of the Intox EC/IR®II instrument, and they are the sole manufacturer of the Intox EC/IR® breath alcohol testing instrument.  

For more information on the Police Traffic Services Program, please contact Danielle Cranston, VIOHS Law Enforcement Liaison, at (340) 714-9811, or at danielle.cranston@vipd.vi.gov

5 Dead, 68 Haitians Rescued From Waters Near Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN — At least five Haitian migrants drowned and 68 others were rescued Thursday after a suspected human smuggling boat dropped the group off in waters near an uninhabited island west of Puerto Rico, officials said.

The incident is the latest in a string of deadly voyages across the northern Caribbean carrying mostly Haitian migrants fleeing their country amid a deepening political and economic crisis and a spike in gang-related killings and kidnappings.

Federal and local authorities searched the area near Mona Island for several hours after receiving a call from rangers with Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural Resources who first spotted the migrants. Officials determined that no additional people were missing, based on interviews with survivors, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad told The Associated Press.

5 Dead, 68 Haitians Rescued From Waters Near Puerto Rico
Rescued migrants walk on the shore off Mona Island, west of Puerto Rico, Thursday, July 28, 2022. At least five migrants drowned and dozens others were rescued Thursday after a suspected human smuggling boat dropped the group off in waters near the uninhabited island west of Puerto Rico, officials said. (Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural Resources via AP)

He said 41 men, 25 women and two children survived, adding that none had any urgent medical issues.

Jeffrey Quiñones, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said all migrants aboard the boat were Haitians.

Most human smuggling boats that carry Haitian migrants to Puerto Rico depart from the neighboring Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Some capsize in the treacherous Mona Passage that separates the two islands while other boats drop off migrants in tiny uninhabited islands before reaching Puerto Rico..

In this case, the boat carrying the migrants fled the scene, Castrodad said.

The rescue comes just days after authorities in the Bahamas recovered the bodies of 17 migrants and rescued 25 more after their boat capsized early Sunday. A criminal investigation is underway.

In May, 11 Haitian women drowned and 38 others were saved after their boat sank near Puerto Rico.

“This is happening every day,” Castrodad said. “Everyone runs the same risk and same danger.”

A growing number of Haitians are fleeing their country as gangs grow more powerful following the July 7, 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. This week alone, authorities blamed gangs for setting a courthouse and a church on fire as turf wars in the capital of Port-au-Prince intensify. In addition, more than 470 people have been killed, injured or disappeared in less than a week amid gang fights in the nearby Cite Soleil slum, according to the United Nations.

The French medical charity Doctors Without Borders issued a statement on Thursday saying it has seen a “significant increase” in the number of victims hit by stray bullets. One of its emergency centers tended to nearly 80 bullet wounds, the majority of them stray bullets, the organization said, adding that many residents are trapped at home and unable to leave because of the escalating violence as their bullet wounds fester.

“In some of these areas, (the agency) can only treat patients in basements or windowless rooms, due to the danger of crossfire and stray bullets,” the medical charity said.

By DÁNICA COTO/The Associated Press

VIPD Begins First Phase of Body-Worn Camera Program 

FREDERIKSTED — The Virgin Islands Police Department announced today it is launching the first phase of its Body-Worn Camera Program.

VIPD Patrol Officers will now be equipped with body-worn cameras (BWCs) for law enforcement operations.  

This program will allow officers to record enforcement and investigative encounters between the police and the public. These cameras will provide an objective record of encounters, simplify review of events by supervisors, and improve accountability.  

“Keeping our territory safe is a top priority for the VIPD,” said Commissioner Ray Martinez. “Law enforcement is at its most effective when there is accountability and trust between our department and the community. I am confident that the launch of this program will promote trust, transparency, and confidence, not only with the community we serve and protect, but also among our law enforcement partners who work alongside our officers.” 

“There may be instances where use of force may occur during law enforcement actions throughout the territory,” said Deputy Commissioner Jason Marsh. “We are committed to ensuring transference and accountability with the implementation of the Body Worn Cameras.  The implementation of the body worn cameras will aid in the investigation of uses of force and alleged misconduct to bring them to a timely conclusion.   

The VIPD BWC Program aims to modernize local policing for officers and citizens alike and will be mutually beneficial in protecting our officers and the members we serve in this community. 

USVI Catches Mega Millions Fever With $1.1 Billion Jackpot

DES MOINES, Iowa — It was all over social media on Tuesday — before the last Mega Millions drawing — Virgin Islanders want a chance at a $1 billion payday.

Many people on St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island proudly announced that they had already bought their tickets and relished the opportunity to win.

Even more so today., because a $1.1 billion lottery prize will be on the line tonight as numbers are drawn for the Mega Millions game.

The giant jackpot is the nation’s third-largest prize and is the result of 29 consecutive drawings without anyone matching all of the game’s six numbers. That last time someone hit the Mega Millions jackpot was April 15.

USVI Catches Mega Millions Fever With .1 Billion Jackpot
In this Wednesday, July 27, 2022 file photo, Mega Millions lottery tickets are shown at a lottery retailer in Surfside, Fla. A giant Mega Millions lottery jackpot ballooned to over $1 billion after no one matched all six numbers and won the top prize. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

Before rushing out to spend $2 on a ticket, keep in mind that the odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot are a staggering 1 in 302.5 million.

The $1.1 billion prize is for players who get their winnings through an annuity, paid annually over 29 years. Nearly all winners take the cash option, which for Friday’s drawing is an estimated $648.2 million.

The jackpot is the latest focus of lotteries that have been conducted in the U.S. and around the world for centuries.

If no one wins the Mega Millions jackpot Friday night, the prize will grow even larger ahead of the next drawing Tuesday night.

Jury Finds Malik Iles Guilty of Murder

KINGSHILL A Superior Court judge found 22-year-old Malik Iles guilty of murder for a shooting on January 11, 2020, that left 34-year-old Ray Thomas dead.
The trial before Judge Douglas Brady began on Monday in Superior Court on St,
Croix. On Wednesday, the Defendant was found guilty on five counts of a seven-count
Information: Murder in Second Degree, Assault in the First Degree, Unauthorized
Possession of a Firearm, Discharging or Aiming Firearms, and Possession of
Ammunition.
The DOJ prosecution team proved that on January 11, 2020, in the vicinity of Estate Sion
Farm, St. Croix, Iles unlawfully and with malice aforethought, did, with willful and
deliberate design, kill Ray Thomas with a firearm.

Jury Finds Malik Iles Guilty of Murder
Malik Iles

According to court documents, on that day in 2020, the 911 Emergency Call Center
received a report at about 2:38 a.m. Saturday of shots fired at a residence in Estate Sion
Farm. Police assigned to investigate, upon arrival discovered blood running down from
the front porch of the house and .45 caliber spent casings with nearby damaged
projectiles. A black male, later identified as Ray Thomas, was found lying on the porch
with gunshot wounds about the body. His body was transported to the Juan F. Luis
Hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

Based upon information from a confidential source, Malik Iles became a person of
interest. Police traveled to the Barren Spot residence where they contacted Malik Iles and transported him to the Police Administration Building for questioning.

A warrant was signed by Judge Harold Willocks to allow a search of the Barren Spot residence. During the search of the home, an empty box for .45 caliber rounds was recovered. It was determined that the box was for the same brand and caliber of cartridges recovered from the scene of the crime.

A blood-stained t-shirt was also found in a nearby garbage bin located in Sion Farm in the vicinity of the crime scene. DNA swabs collected from the tshirt indicated that the blood was that of the deceased, Ray Thomas. Other evidence indicated the t-shirt was worn by Malik Iles. After collecting further evidence, statements from witnesses, and family members police traveled back to the Barren Spot residence and placed Iles under arrest at 6:23 pm.

Photo of Liquor Store Shooting Victim Angel Diaz

CHRISTIANSTED — Police held a press conference and named the three St. Croix men who were shot and killed near a liquor store-vape shop near a La Grande Princesse gas station on Tuesday night.

The victims were positively identified by next of kin as 41-year-old Muhammad Asad, 28-year-old Adil Idheileh, and 60-year-old Angel Diaz, the Virgin Islands Police Department said.

Members of the community expressed shock and grief at the loss of their loved ones on social media.

“I hope the families receive justice not just thoughts and prayers from the community,” Maria Del Mar Quinones said.

Photo of Liquor Store Shooting Victim Angel Diaz
REST IN PEACE: Angel Diaz, 60, on St. Croix

The 911 Emergency Call Center received calls of discharging of shots at 9:10 p.m. Tuesday off Northside Road at Wa U Feel Like liquor and vape store parking lot. It is on the same side of the street as Titan gas station, formerly known as “Gas City.” 

Responding officers initially discovered two victims, who Emergency Medical Technicians said were found dead on arrival. Nearly 45 minutes later, police discovered a third body.

“Officers arrived at the location and discovered three unresponsive male victims with gunshot wounds,” VIPD Communications Director Glen Dratte said. “Emergency Medical Services Technicians were on the scene and were unable to find a pulse for any of the victims. All three victims were pronounced dead on the scene.”

Photo of Liquor Store Shooting Victim Angel Diaz
Wa U Feel Like liqyor and vape store in Estate La Grande Princesse on St. Croix. (Photo by Jeffrey Stewart)

“This investigation is currently active, and detectives are putting the pieces together,” the police spokesman added.

If you know anything about this triple homicide, please call 911, the CIB Tip Line at 340-778-4950, 340-712-6092, Crime Stoppers VI at 1-800-222-8477.