Thirteen people who died after a semi-trailer crashed into their full 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. 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 Chevrolet 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 SR 115 and Norrish Road near Holtville, Calif., Said Omar Watson, chief of the highway patrol division.
The accident happened 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 ‘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 area 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,” Gregory Bovino, head of the El Centro sector of the border patrol, said in a statement. “Human smugglers have proven time and time again that they care little for human life. Those considering crossing the border illegally should think about the dangers that all too often end in tragic tragedies. Our border patrol officers and first responders are unfortunately very familiar with it. “
In a statement, assembled Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, whose 56th Assembly District includes Holtville, offered condolences to the victims and stressed that “comprehensive immigration reform” is needed to prevent dangers people face when crossing the border.
“Our broken immigration system is a humanitarian, public and economic crisis affecting communities on both sides of the border,” he said. “Tragedies like this draw public attention to the grim realities of our struggle for immigration to the United States and the danger that immigrant families face to have a chance for a better life. “
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 the 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 died in hospital. Several people were kicked out of the SUV while others were able 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’s a very sad situation.”
The crash explained visually
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Paramedics took 11 people to hospitals in the area, police said. Seven went to the El Centro regional medical center, where one of them died. The status of three of those patients was not immediately available on Wednesday, but the other three were transferred to Pioneer Memorial Hospital in Brawley.
Of these three, one was released with minor injuries while the other two were airlifted to Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego. They were to be treated for life-threatening injuries, said Karina Lopez, Pioneers public affairs liaison.
Going back to 2016, there have been three collisions on Route 115 and Norrish Road.
Who was killed and injured in the accident?
The police did not release the names of the victims. The ages of the 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 informing the families of Mexican nationals killed in the crash, but they shared some new details.
“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, press secretary of the consulate. “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 suffered minor injuries were released from El Centro hospital on Tuesday and were not in the custody of U.S. immigration or border officials, he said.
A man, Tony Hernandez, told Univision his relatives in Michoacán, 25 and 32, died in the crash. He said they were on their way to Los Angeles. “I have already spoken to my relatives. They are devastated,” Hernandez said.
The driver of the truck, Joe Beltran, 68, of El Centro, 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 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 type 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.”
What does the area look like?
Just one kilometer from the crash site, a cemetery with unmarked bricks is a burial site for migrants who died crossing the border from Mexico.
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.
In the early 2000s, the El Centro area, which covers most of the Imperial County’s border with Mexico, was among the busiest smuggling routes along the US-Mexico border, according to Patrol statistics. border. But apprehensions began to diminish significantly after 2007, when the US government installed border fencing upgrades along the region.
The number of migrant apprehensions has remained stable since then. They hit rock bottom after Donald Trump took office in 2017. But they climbed steadily again and peaked in October 2020, despite border restrictions on the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Trump administration has installed more than 20 miles of 30-foot bollard fencing in the El Centro area, including the first sections of new barriers completed under its tenure. According to CBP, an additional 11 miles of fencing are under contract and 13 miles of secondary barriers are in the pre-construction phase. But it’s still unclear whether those sections will be built, as President Joe Biden has pledged to stop building border walls.
Tuesday’s breach in the border fence, before the deadly crash, occurred in an area with older fences built after 2007. It was made of steel bollards built before Trump covered much of the border with higher barriers that sink deeper into the ground.
As apprehensions have subsided in El Centro in recent months, the number of migrants border officials have encountered along the US-Mexico border is on the rise. In January, officers apprehended more than 75,000 migrants, the highest number since the 2019 outbreak of migrant families overwhelmed by border officials.
The region is also a great stretch of suburb for thousands of farm workers who legally cross the border every day. 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 were sadly common among farm workers. He remembers an accident in 1999 that killed 13 tomato pickers in western Fresno County after an accident impaled many of them on their own tools.
Contributors: Rafael Carranza, Kate Cimini, Emily LeCoz, Christal Hayes, USA TODAY; The Associated Press; Colin Atagi, (Palm Springs) Desert Sun; Javier Arce, La Voz Arizona