- The Washington Times - Monday, October 8, 2012

Mexican military officials have arrested a regional leader of the brutal Los Zetas drug cartel in the 2010 killing of a U.S. citizen who was fatally shot in an ambush by six Mexican pirates in two boats on Falcon Lake near Zapata, Texas.

David Michael Hartley, 30, of McAllen, Texas, was riding with his wife on personal watercraft on the lake when the daylight shooting occurred. Mr. Hartley’s wife, Tiffany, tried circling back to pull him from the water, but was forced to retreat after being fired at by the gunmen.

The suspect, captured after a gunfight Saturday with Mexican marines in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, was identified as Salvador Alfonso Martinez Escobar, a regional leader of the Zetas’ organization in three Northern Mexico states — Coahuila, Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon.

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Martinez, known as “The Squirrel” and “Commander Squirrel,” also is suspected of being the ringleader of a 2010 massacre in Tamaulipas in which 72 migrants from South America and Central America were killed as they tried to make their way to a checkpoint on the U.S.-Mexico border. Mexican authorities also said he led prison breaks in Northern Mexico in which dozens of prisoners escaped.

Mrs. Hartley told U.S. law enforcement authorities she and her husband were riding personal watercraft on Falcon Lake on Sept. 30, 2010, when unknown assailants attacked the couple, firing shots at them and mortally wounding her husband in the head. She said she was forced to flee after being unable to pull her husband’s body onto her watercraft as their attackers kept shooting.

Her husband’s body has never been recovered.

Rolando Armando Flores Villegas, head of state investigators in the border city of Ciudad Miguel Aleman and the man who led the inquiry into the Hartley death, was later found beheaded. Mexican authorities have said they think the Hartleys may have interrupted a drug transaction when they ventured into the Mexican side of the 84,000-acre lake.

In a written statement, the Mexican navy said, “Squirrel is credited with being the mastermind of the deaths of 72 undocumented migrants in San Fernando. He is the alleged perpetrator of the narco graves found in Tamaulipas state, with more than 200 bodies and the execution of more than 50 people by his own hand in different parts of the republic, [as well as] the murder of David Hartley, an American citizen killed at Falcon Dam on September 30, 2010.”

The statement also said Martinez is a suspect in the beheading of Mr. Flores Villegas, whose decapitated body was delivered to the Mexican military in a suitcase.

Falcon Lake is a dammed section of the Rio Grande, 25 miles long and 3 miles wide, that is considered one of the best bass fishing lakes in the country.

Pirates have become a persistent problem over the past several years and Texas authorities warned boaters to stay on the U.S. side of Falcon Lake after several reported confrontations involving boaters, fishermen and suspected drug smugglers armed with assault rifles.

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