The Mission — Just a Day After the Death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Raul Gonzalez Jr. when his all-terrain vehicle collided with the steel gate Here, the gate that led to two accidents and raised safety concerns among locals five years earlier has been removed.
“As far as we know, they arrived around 5 p.m. after we closed (Wednesday) and started demolition,” Marianna Treviño Wright, executive director of the Butterfly Center, said Thursday.
The gate – made of the same steel bollards used in the construction of the border wall – is located on Schulbach Road adjacent to the National Butterfly Centre.
It crosses the western boundary of the centre, across the canal and towards the levee.
By Thursday morning, the gate had been completely removed.
The only remaining sign of the gate is the overturned dirt fixed to the ground with concrete.
Nearby, a group of four uniformed Border Patrol agents circled briefly before departing in an unmarked vehicle.
Gonzalez had been patrolling the area overnight Tuesday through Wednesday, according to a statement released by Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz.
He had been “stalking a group of people illegally crossing the border” when he crashed into the gate at about 1am on Wednesday.
Ortiz said other agents found him unresponsive and “immediately launched lifesaving efforts” and called an ambulance.
Gonzalez was taken to a nearby hospital where he died. He has served with the Border Patrol since 2011.
Meanwhile, his ATV was recovered from the canal, which was just yards before the embankment.
Staff at the Butterfly Center learned of the incident when they arrived for work at 8am on Wednesday.
“There was a tow truck at the scene, but no vehicle was immediately seen. Crews later determined and observed the ATV in the Mission main canal,” Treviño Wright said.
Gonzalez’s helmet can still be seen on the ground, she said.
However, Wednesday’s fatal accident was not the first incident at the gate.
In January, a Dodge truck from the Texas National Guard rammed the gate so hard that the bollards bent and cracked, Treviño Wright said.
“Border Patrol bent them back, welded them back together, and added reinforcing plates to the back of these bollards,” Trevino Wright said.
As they did Wednesday, Butterfly Center staff learned of the accident when they arrived at the facility and its grounds in the morning.
In another incident, a pickup truck being pursued by law enforcement crashed into a canal after swerving to avoid a gate, Treviño Wright said.
Treviño Wright said the Butterfly Center warned Border Patrol years before any incidents occurred that the gates were a security risk.
CBP installed the gates sometime after June 2014, she said. It is about 4-6 feet in front of the canal. The sides of the bridge across the canal are protected by low concrete barriers.
On the east side of Schulbach are the Butterfly Center and its properties, and on the west side are federal lands controlled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
CBP must obtain permission from both landowners to install gates. However, in 2017, the Butterfly Center changed its mind and attempted to remove it.
“On August 2, 2017, we notified the government in writing that we were revoking their permission to have the gate there. We wanted it removed because we recognized it was a danger,” Treviño Wright said.
The road is unlit, she said. The gate itself – its metal bollards have rusted and blackened – has no reflective decals or other security measures that would make it more visible at night.
The Butterfly Center never heard back from CBP, so the gate remained on until it was removed Thursday morning.
Along with the gate, however, officials also removed a game camera that had been placed on USFWS land. The camera is secured in a locked box mounted on a post facing the gate.
“(Wednesday) we observed a U.S. Border Patrol agent take down that camera,” Trevino Wright said.
The four agents who were at the scene Thursday did not answer The Monitor’s questions about the crash or the gate. As of press time, no phone messages have been received.
Border Patrol agent on duty dies after ATV crash near Mission