PHOENIX – After a frantic hour-long desert search, authorities found a deputy wounded in a shootout Friday with suspected illegal immigrants apparently hauling bales of marijuana along a major smuggling corridor in southern Arizona.
The deputy was found with a superficial wound — a chunk of skin torn from just above his left kidney — after being shot with an AK-47 on Friday afternoon, Pinal County sheriff's Lt. Tamatha Villar said. He was flown by helicopter to a hospital in Casa Grande, about 40 miles south of Phoenix.
Villar said the deputy was doing smuggling interdiction work and found bales of marijuana in the desert. He then encountered five suspected illegal immigrants, two armed with rifles, and was shot.
"He was out on his routine daily patrol in the area when he encountered a load of marijuana out in the desert. He obviously confronted the individuals and took fire," Villar told The Associated Press. "I was speaking with him just a bit ago, and he's doing fantastic."
The deputy was alone about five miles from a rest stop along Interstate 8, about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. The area is a well-known smuggling corridor for drugs and illegal immigrants headed from Mexico to Phoenix and the U.S. interior.