Thirteen people who died after a semiconductor crashed into their packed SUV near the US-Mexico border were among 44 people who entered the United States through a 10-foot hole dug in the southern California border fence US Customs and Border Protection said Wednesday.
“All are suspected of having entered the United States illegally,” the agency said in a statement. “Border Patrol is investigating the smuggling events.”
Two cars were seen on surveillance video leaving the fence hole area around 6 a.m. PT on Tuesday, the agency said.
One vehicle, a Suburban, carried 19 people and caught fire after entering the United States and traveling 30 miles to the intersection of Interstate 8 and State Route 115, the agency said. All the passengers escaped from the vehicle and were taken into custody by border patrol officers.
The cause of the fire was not immediately clear.
The other vehicle, a 1997 Ford Expedition with seats removed, was carrying 25 people when a A large rig hit the side of the SUV at the intersection of State Route 115 and Norrish Road near Holtville, Calif., Said Omar Watson, chief of the highway patrol division.
The crash happened about 10 miles north of the border, and a Mexican government official said at least 10 of the deceased victims were Mexican nationals.
“At no time did ‘the border patrol’ attempt to stop or pursue any of the vehicles,” the agency said. The opening of the fence was about 30 miles east of the crash in the heart of California’s Imperial Valley, a major agricultural region. The region has long been an important route for illegal border crossings.
“We pray for the victims of the accident and their families during this difficult time,” El Centro sector chief patrol officer Gregory Bovino said in a statement. “Human smugglers have proven time and time again that they care little for human life. Those planning to cross the border illegally should think about the dangers that too often end in tragedy; tragedies our border patrol officers and our first responders are unfortunately very familiar with. “
Recent news:At least 13 dead after truck crashed into SUV carrying 25 near US-Mexico border
Here’s what we know now:
What happened during the accident?
A preliminary report released Tuesday by Highway Patrol said the SUV, driven by a 28-year-old Mexican, “entered the intersection directly in front of” a Peterbilt truck. Police said it was unclear why the SUV entered the intersection, but the truck struck its left side, immediately killing the driver of the SUV.
Watson said 12 people were killed at the scene and a 13th person later died in hospital. Several people inside the SUV were thrown from the vehicle while others managed to exit as police responded, Watson said. A few more had to be freed from the SUV.
“It would be premature for me to speculate or discuss the cause of this collision. What we have to keep in mind is that 13 people died in this crash,” Watson said on Tuesday. “It is a very sad situation.”
Who was killed and injured in the accident?
Police did not release the names of the crash victims. The ages of people in the SUV range from 15 to 53 years old. No children were killed in the crash, police said.
The driver of the SUV was from Mexicali, Mexico. Roberto Velasco, Director of North American Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, confirmed that 10 of those killed were Mexican.
The Mexican consulate in Calexico said on Wednesday it had started the process of notifying the families of Mexican nationals killed in the crash, but they shared some new details about the incident.
“We know there are families in the United States, as well as in several states of Mexico. The consulate has contacted six families of the deceased,” said Mario Beltran Mainero, the consulate’s press secretary. “We are working to reach them all.”
The consulate declined to say whether the 10 Mexican nationals killed and the others injured were part of a smuggling operation, reported to US authorities.
Beltran Mainero said at least one of the six families they have located is in San Diego; the other families are in Mexico. Four Mexican nationals who were slightly injured in the crash were released from El Centro hospital on Tuesday and were not in the custody of the United States immigration or border office, he said. declared.
Truck driver Joe Beltran, 68, of El Centro, Calif., Was also taken to hospital with “serious injuries,” according to the preliminary report of the accident.
Why were there so many people in the SUV?
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement that special agents in its San Diego Homeland Security Investigation Unit “launched an investigation into human trafficking” but did not give no other details.
A 1997 Ford Expedition can carry a maximum payload of 2,000 pounds. If there were 25 people inside, it would easily exceed the payload limit, taxing the brakes and making it more difficult to steer the vehicle, said Frank Borris, former head of the Defect Investigation Bureau of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“You’re going to have extended stopping distances, delayed reactions to steering commands, and a potential overreaction to any kind of high-speed lane change,” said Borris, who now runs a safety consulting firm.
SUVs of this age tend to be very heavy even when they’re not carrying a lot of weight, Borris said. “With all this payload above the vehicle’s center of gravity, it’s going to make it even more unstable,” he said.
What does the area look like?
Just a mile from the crash site, a cemetery with unmarked bricks is a burial site for migrants who died crossing the border from Mexico to the California desert.
The area became a major route for illegal border crossings in the late 1990s after stronger law enforcement in San Diego pushed migrants to more remote areas. Many have crossed the All-American Canal, an aqueduct that runs along the border and releases water from the Colorado River to the farms through an extensive network of canals.
In 2001, John Hunter founded Water Station, a group of volunteers who leave jugs of water in giant plastic drums for dehydrated migrants. “I was trying to figure out how to stop the dead,” said Hunter, whose brother Duncan advocated strongly for building a border wall as a member of Congress.
Illegal crossings fell sharply in the mid-2000s, but the area remained a draw for migrants and was a priority for building walls under former President Donald Trump. His administration’s first wall project was in Calexico.
The region is also a great stretch of suburb for thousands of farm workers who legally cross the border every day.
California’s Imperial Valley, which supplies much of the lettuce, onions, broccoli and winter vegetables to U.S. supermarkets, is finishing its winter harvest. Many workers commute daily from Mexico during harvest, taking buses and SUVs to the fields of downtown Calexico just before dawn.
United Farm Workers spokesman Marc Grossman said unionized workers learned that the people in the SUV were not farm workers, although tragedies like these are sadly common among farm workers, Grossman said. He recalls an accident in 1999 that killed 13 tomato pickers in western Fresno County after an accident impaled many on their own tools.
Contributors: Rafael Carranza, Kate Cimini, Emily LeCoz, Christal Hayes, USA TODAY; The Associated Press; Colin Atagi, Palm Desert Sun.