US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has opened a human smuggling investigation into a Tuesday horror crash involving an SUV packed with 25 people and a tractor trailer that left 13 dead in Southern California.
The collision occurred on State Route 115 in the area of El Centro, 10 miles north of the US-Mexico border, at around 6:15am local time yesterday morning.
The SUV, a Ford Expedition, was T-boned on the driver’s side by the big rig, with the impact of the crash ejecting several passengers from the vehicle and leaving bodies scattered across the roadway.
Twelve people were found dead at the scene, and an additional victim died shortly after arriving at an area hospital. Several others were hurt, with injuries ranging from fractures to life-threatening head traumas. Three remain in intensive care.
The Mexican Consulate in Calexico has confirmed that at least 10 of those killed were Mexican nationals. The remaining three victims are yet to be identified.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the SUV was transporting the migrants across the border.
In a statement, an ICE spokesperson confirmed to DailyMail.com that ‘Special agents from Homeland Security Investigations San Diego responded [to the scene]… and have initiated a human smuggling investigation.’
The collision occurred on State Route 115 in the area of El Centro, 10 miles north of the US-Mexico border, at around 6:15am local time yesterday morning
An ICE spokesperson confirmed to DailyMail.com that ‘Special agents from Homeland Security Investigations San Diego responded … and have initiated a human smuggling investigation’
The impact of the crash ejecting several passengers from the vehicle and leaving bodies scattered across the roadway
ICE declined to comment further at to what led the agency to believe human trafficking was suspected, adding that additional details aren’t being released at this time.
As of early Wednesday, the immigration status of all the passengers was unknown, authorities said.
It was initially rumored that the SUV may have illegally crossed the border and was being pursued by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents in the moments leading up to the crash.
However, Macario Mora, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, denied CBP had any prior involvement.
‘It was an unusual number of people in an SUV, but we don’t know who they were,’ Mora said. ‘They might have just been farmworkers’ – not necessarily undocumented.
When police arrived at the scene of the crash some of the passengers were trying to crawl out of the crumpled 1997 Ford Expedition while others were wandering around in surrounding fields. Some were laying lifeless in the roadway.
While an Expedition typically seats a maximum of eight, officials said the SUV’s back seats had been removed to create more space for passengers.
‘It was a pretty chaotic scene,’ California Highway Patrol Chief Omar Watson said. ‘Obviously, that vehicle’s not meant for that many people … there’s not enough safety constraints to safely keep those people in that vehicle.’
ICE declined to comment further at to what led the agency to believe human trafficking was suspected, adding that further details aren’t being released at this time
As of early Wednesday, the immigration status of all the passengers was unknown
‘It was a pretty chaotic scene,’ California Highway Patrol Chief Omar Watson said
The people in the vehicle ranged in age from 15 to 53 and were a mix of males and females, officials said.
The 28-year-old driver was from Mexicali, Mexico, just across the border, and was among those killed.
The 68-year-old driver of the big rig, who is from nearby El Centro, meanwhile, was hospitalized with moderate injuries.
The passengers’ injuries ranged from minor to severe and included fractures and head trauma. They were being cared for at several hospitals. One person was treated at a hospital and released.
The crash occurred around 6:15am at an intersection just outside Holtville.
Authorities said the tractor-trailer and its two empty containers were northbound on State Highway 115 when the SUV pulled in front of it from Norrish Road.
A California Highway Patrol report said the SUV entered an intersection directly in front of the big-rig, which hit the left side of the SUV. Both vehicles came to a halt on a dirt shoulder.
It’s not clear if the SUV ran a stop sign or had stopped before entering the highway. It’s also not yet known how fast the tractor-trailer was traveling.
The speed limit for tractor-trailers on the highway is 55 mph; the other road is also 55 mph for vehicles.
Twelve people were found dead at the scene, Judy Cruz, the managing director of the emergency department at the El Centro Regional Medical Center said at a news conference
The site of the crash is in southeastern California, about 10 miles east of El Centro and about 11 miles north of the Mexican border
A spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection told DC Examiner journalist Anna Giaritelli that CBP personnel were not involved in the collision
Hugo Chavez, an activist with the Coalition for Human Immigration Rights, places crosses at the scene where the SUV carrying 25 people collided with the semi-truck
A 1997 Ford Expedition can carry a maximum payload of 2,000 pounds. If it had 25 people inside, that would easily exceed the payload limit, which taxes the brakes and makes it tougher to steer, said Frank Borris, former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Office of Defects Investigation.
‘You’re going to have extended stopping distances, delayed reactions to steering inputs and potential over-reaction to any type of high-speed lane change,’ said Borris.
SUVs of that age tended to be top-heavy even without carrying a lot of weight, he said.
‘With all of that payload above the vehicle’s center of gravity, it’s going to make it even more unstable,’ Boris added.
The crash occurred amid verdant farms that grow a wide variety of vegetables and alfalfa used for cattle feed.
Thousands of people cross into the US each day to work in the fields.
The harvest of lettuce and other winter vegetable crops runs from November until March, and buses and SUVs carrying farmworkers often travel down the rural roads in the early morning hours.
The area has also seen smugglers carrying migrants in trucks and vehicles. Hundreds of migrants who died after crossing the border are buried in unmarked graves in Holtville’s cemetery on the edge of town.