Thirteen people who died after a semi-trailer truck slammed into their jam-packed SUV near the US-Mexico border were among 44 who entered the US through a 10-foot hole in the southern California border fence, customs and officials shared Border guard on Wednesday with.
“Everyone is suspected of having entered the US illegally,” the agency said in a statement. “Border Patrol is investigating the smuggling incidents.”
According to the agency, two cars were seen on a surveillance video leaving the fence hole area around 6 a.m. on Tuesday.
One vehicle, a Chevrolet Suburban, carried 19 people and caught fire after entering the United States and driving 30 miles to the intersection of Interstate 8 and State Route 115. All passengers escaped from the vehicle and were taken into custody by border guards.
The cause of the fire was not immediately clear.
The other vehicle, a 1997 Ford Expedition with the seats removed, carried 25 people when a The large rig hit the side of the SUV at the intersection of SR 115 and Norrish Road near Holtville, Calif., Said Omar Watson, chief of the Highway Patrol division.
The crash occurred about 10 miles north of the border. A Mexican government official said at least 10 of those who died were Mexican nationals.
“At no time” did Border Patrol “attempt to stop or pursue any of the vehicles,” the agency said. The opening in the fence was about 30 miles east of the crash in the heart of California’s Imperial Valley, a major agricultural region. The area has long been an important route for illegal border crossings.
“We pray for the accident victims and their families at this difficult time,” said Gregory Bovino, head of the border police’s El Centro sector, in a statement. “People smugglers have proven time and again that they have little regard for human life. Anyone who may consider crossing the border illegally should pause to reflect on the dangers that all too often result in tragic tragedies. Unfortunately, our border guards and first responders are very familiar with. “
In a statement, MEP Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, whose 56th congregation district is Holtville, expressed condolences to the victims and stressed the need for “comprehensive immigration reform” to prevent the dangers people face when crossing the border are exposed.
“Our broken immigration system is a humanitarian, public and economic crisis that affects communities on both sides of the border,” he said. “Tragedies like this draw public attention to the dark realities of our immigration struggle in the United States and the dangers immigrant families face for an opportunity for a better life.”
Latest news:At least 13 dead after truck of 25 slammed into an SUV near the U.S.-Mexico border
Here’s what we now know:
What happened in the crash?
A preliminary report released Tuesday by Highway Patrol said the SUV, driven by a 28-year-old Mexican resident, “pulled into the intersection right in front of a Peterbilt truck.” Police said it was not clear why the SUV was entering the intersection, but the truck hit his left side and instantly killed the SUV driver.
Watson said 12 people were killed at the scene and a 13th person died in the hospital. Several people were thrown from the SUV while others managed to get out when police responded, Watson said. Some others had to be freed from the SUV.
“It would be premature for me to speculate or discuss what caused this collision. We have to keep in mind that 13 people were killed in this crash,” Watson said on Tuesday. “It’s a very sad situation.”
The crash is explained visually
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Paramedics took 11 people to hospitals, the police said. Seven went to El Centro Regional Medical Center, where one of them died. The status of three of these patients was not immediately available Wednesday, but the remaining three were taken to the Pioneer Memorial Hospital in Brawley.
Of the three, one was released with minor injuries while the other two were flown to Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego. They should be treated for life-threatening injuries, said Karina Lopez, public affairs liaison at Pioneers.
Since 2016 there have been three collisions on Highway 115 and Norrish Road.
Who was killed and injured in the crash?
The police did not publish the names of the victims. The age of SUV drivers is between 15 and 53 years. No children were killed in the crash, the police said.
The driver of the SUV was from Mexicali, Mexico. Roberto Velasco, director of North American affairs for Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department, confirmed that 10 of the people killed were Mexicans.
The Mexican consulate in Calexico said Wednesday that it had started notifying the families of Mexican nationals killed in the crash, but provided few new details.
“We know that there are families in the United States and in several states in Mexico. The consulate has reached six families of the deceased,” said Mario Beltran Mainero, spokesman for the consulate. “We’re working to reach them all.”
The consulate declined to say whether the 10 Mexican nationals killed and the other injured were part of a smuggling operation under US officials.
Beltran Mainero said at least one of the six families they found is in San Diego; The rest of the families are in Mexico. Four Mexican nationals who suffered minor injuries were discharged from El Centro hospital on Tuesday and were not in the care of U.S. immigration or border officials, he said.
One man, Tony Hernandez, told Univision that his Michoacan relatives, 25 and 32, were killed in the crash. He said they were on their way to Los Angeles. “I’ve already spoken to my relatives. They are devastated,” said Hernandez.
The truck driver Joe Beltran (68) from El Centro was also taken to hospital with “serious injuries”, according to the preliminary accident report.
Why were so many people in the SUV?
US immigration and customs officials said in a statement that special agents from the San Diego Homeland Security Division “opened an investigation into people smuggling,” but did not provide any further details.
A 1997 expedition can carry a maximum payload of 2,000 pounds. If 25 people were inside, it would easily exceed the payload limit, put strain on the brakes and make it difficult to steer, said Frank Borris, former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Office of Defects Investigation.
“You will have longer braking distances, delayed responses to steering inputs and possible overreactions to any type of high-speed lane change,” said Borris, who now runs a safety consultancy.
SUVs this age tend to be top heavy even if they aren’t carrying a lot of weight, Borris said. “With all that payload above the vehicle’s center of gravity, it becomes even more unstable.”
How is the landscape?
Less than a mile from the site of the crash, an unmarked brick cemetery is a burial site for migrants who have died across the border from Mexico.
In 2001, John Hunter founded the Water Station, a volunteer group that leaves jugs of water in giant plastic barrels for dehydrated migrants. “I’ve been trying to figure out how to stop death,” said Hunter, whose brother Duncan, as a congressman, was a strong advocate of building border walls.
In the early 2000s, the El Centro sector, which covers most of the Imperial County’s border with Mexico, was among the busiest smuggling routes along the US-Mexico border, according to Border Patrol statistics. However, after 2007, when the US government installed border fence upgrades in the area, fears subsided significantly.
The number of arrests of migrants has remained constant since then. They hit rock bottom after Donald Trump took office in 2017. However, they rose steadily again and peaked in October 2020 despite restrictions on the border with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Trump administration installed more than 20 miles of 30-foot bollard fencing in the El Centro sector, including the first sections of new barriers completed under his tenure. Another 11 miles of fences are under contract, and 13 miles of secondary barriers are in prep, according to the CBP. However, it remains unclear whether these sections will be built, as President Joe Biden has promised to stop building the border wall.
The breach of the border fence the Tuesday before the fatal crash occurred in an area with older fences built after 2007. It consisted of steel bollards that were built before Trump covered much of the border with higher barriers that protruded deeper into the ground.
While fears have decreased in El Centro in recent months, the number of migrants border officials have encountered along the entire US-Mexico border has increased. Agents arrested more than 75,000 migrants in January, the highest number since the rise in migrant families in 2019 overwhelmed border officials.
The area is also a major commuter route for thousands of farm workers legally crossing the border every day. The Imperial Valley, which supplies much of its lettuce, onions, broccoli and winter vegetables to US supermarkets, is completing its winter harvest. Many workers commute from Mexico daily during the harvest, bringing buses and SUVs from downtown Calexico to the fields just before dawn.
United Farm Workers spokesman Marc Grossman said union workers had learned that the people in the SUV were not farm workers, although tragedies like this used to be alarmingly common for farm workers. He recalled an accident in 1999 that killed 13 tomato pickers in western Fresno County after a crash impaled many with their own tools.
Featuring: Rafael Carranza, Kate Cimini, Emily LeCoz, Christal Hayes, USA TODAY; The Associated Press; Colin Atagi, (Palm Springs) Desert Sun; Javier Arce, La Voz Arizona