MISSION — Just one day after U.S. Border Patrol agent Raul Gonzalez Jr. died when his ATV collided with a steel gate here, that gate — which caused two previous accidents and prompted safety concerns from locals as early as five years ago — has been removed.
“From what we can tell, they arrived and initiated the removal around 5 p.m. after we closed (Wednesday)” Marianna Treviño Wright, executive director of the butterfly center, said Thursday.
The gate — which had been made of the same steel bollards as those used in border wall construction — had been located on Schuerbach Road adjacent to the National Butterfly Center.
It leads past the western boundary of the center, across a canal and toward a flood control levee.
By mid-morning Thursday, the gate had been completely removed.
The only sign that remained of the gate was the overturned earth where it had been anchored in the ground with concrete.
Nearby, a group of four uniformed Border Patrol agents milled about briefly before leaving in unmarked vehicles.
Gonzalez had been patrolling the area in the overnight hours between Tuesday and Wednesday, according to a statement released by Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz.
He had been “tracking a group of subjects that illegally crossed the border” when he crashed into the gate at approximately 1 a.m. Wednesday.
Other agents discovered him unresponsive and “immediately initiated life-saving efforts” and called for an ambulance, Ortiz said.
Gonzalez was transported to a nearby hospital, where he later died. He had served in Border Patrol since 2011.
Meanwhile, his ATV was recovered from the canal, which lies just a few yards in front of the levee.
The butterfly center’s personnel became aware of the incident when they arrived for work at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
“Tow trucks were on the scene, but no vehicle was immediately visible. Staff later determined and observed that the ATV was in the Mission main canal,” Treviño Wright said.
Gonzalez’s helmet could still be seen on the ground, she said.
However, Wednesday’s fatal accident isn’t the first incident to occur at the gate.
In January, a Dodge truck belonging to the Texas National Guard struck the gate with such force that it bent and cracked the bollards, Treviño Wright said.
“Border Patrol had bent them back, welded them back together and added reinforcement plates to the backside of those bollards,” Treviño Wright said.
Just as they did Wednesday, butterfly center staff learned of that crash when they arrived to open the facility and its grounds in the morning.
In another incident, a pickup truck that was being pursued by law enforcement crashed into the canal after swerving to avoid the gate, Treviño Wright said.
The butterfly center had warned Border Patrol that the gate was a safety hazard years before any of the accidents, Treviño Wright said.
She said CBP installed the gate sometime after June 2014. It stood approximately 4-6 feet in front of the canal. The sides of the bridge spanning the canal are protected by a low concrete barrier.
On the east side of Schuerbach lies the butterfly center and its property, on the west is federal land controlled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
CBP had to get permission from both landowners in order to install the gate. However, in 2017, the butterfly center changed its mind and tried to have it removed.
“On Aug. 2 of 2017, in writing, we notified the government that we were revoking their permission to have the gate there. We wanted it removed because we recognized that it was a hazard,” Treviño Wright said.
The road is unlit, she said. And the gate itself — whose metal bollards had been darkened with rust — bore no reflective decals or other safety measures that would make it more visible at night.
The butterfly center never heard back from CBP and so the gate remained until its removal Thursday morning.
Along with the gate, however, officials also removed a game camera that had been positioned on the USFWS land. The camera, which was secured inside a locked box, was installed on a post facing the gate.
“(Wednesday) we observed a U.S. Border Patrol agent removing that camera,” Treviño Wright said.
The four agents who were at the scene Thursday did not answer The Monitor’s questions regarding the crash or the gate. Nor was a phone message returned as of press time.