Mix-up sends ICE agent's body to Houston

February 17, 2011 4:22:14 PM PST
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent was shot and killed Tuesday in an ambush near san Luis Potosi, Mexico. His body was then brought to Houston, but the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office said it could not accept it.

There was a mix up and it's not clear why he was brought to Houston, but the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office tells us, it's matter of jurisdiction; since the agent was not killed in Harris County they could not accept him.

Special Agent Jaime Zapata with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement was shot and killed by suspected drug cartel members in Mexico Tuesday, while on assignment. But confusion also broke out on where to send his remains on Wednesday.

"We actually spoke with the agents throughout the day and we advised them and explained to them the limits of our boundaries," Roxanne Mena with the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office said.

According to the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office, talks about agent Zapata's body being brought to Houston began Wednesday morning.

His remains made it to a private hangar at Bush Intercontinental Airport, expecting to be delivered to the Harris County ME's Office for a second autopsy.

But the medical examiner's office declined, stating his death occurred outside the county and an autopsy would have been illegal.

"Anything that we would have found forensically would have been thrown out in court of law, because that judge would have asked, 'What legal authority do you have to examine these remains?' And the answer that the states mandates is, 'None,'" Mena said.

She says agents transporting his body were informed that the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology has jurisdiction on federal employees and Harris County did not want to hinder any ongoing investigation.

Zapata's body was eventually flown to the institute in Washington, D.C.

"We took all measures that we didn't jeopardize any type of investigation or prosecution of those perpetrators who did this to this individual," Mena said.

We contacted the FBI, who was transporting Zapata, and the U.S. Department of State, but no one could tells us who made the decision to bring his body to Harris County.

Funeral preparations for slain ICE agent Zapata

The privacy of Zapata's family is being protected.

Brownsville police and ICE officers on Thursday blocked the entrance to a road leading to the South Texas family home of 32-year-old Zapata.

The Brownsville native and Special Agent Victor Avila were shot Tuesday while in an SUV returning to Mexico City from a meeting in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi. Avila, who was shot in the leg, was discharged Wednesday from a Houston hospital.

The attackers are sought.

A spokesman for Buena Vista Funeral Home in Brownsville did not immediately return a call Thursday from The Associated Press.

Mark Schlatter, who taught geography to Zapata in high school, said "he brought positive energy to the classroom."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.