At least 13 people, including 10 Mexican nationals, were killed when an articulated truck slammed into an all-terrain vehicle crammed with 25 people on a dusty Southern California road near the US-Mexico border.
US immigration and customs officials (ICE) opened an investigation into whether it was people smuggling, a spokeswoman for the agency said in a statement.
Handcrafted wooden crosses stretched in a row over a piece of dry grass and dirt by the roadside and a seat that appeared to be covered in blood lay near the crumpled Ford Expedition as the deserted highway through the farming community of Holtville Tuesday remained closed in the afternoon.
Crosses were placed near a fatal collision between a Ford Expedition sport utility vehicle and a tractor-trailer near Holtville, California, United States [Bing Guan/Reuters]The white semi-trailer cab with the yellow trim was still smashed into the ruined side of the maroon SUV. The entire driver’s side of the smaller vehicle collapsed and the passenger side was torn wide open.
The people in the vehicle were between 15 and 53 years old and were a mix of men and women, officials said. The driver came from Mexicali, Mexico, just across the border and was among those killed. The 68-year-old driver of the big rig from nearby El Centro was hospitalized with moderate injuries.
“Unfortunately, consular officials have so far confirmed the deaths of 10 Mexicans,” said Roberto Velasco Alvarez, director of the State Department for North America, in a tweet in Spanish.
Regarding the car accident reported today in Imperial Valley, @ConsulMexCal has remained in touch with local authorities.
Unfortunately, consular staff have so far confirmed the deaths of ten Mexicans.
– Roberto Velasco Álvarez (@r_velascoa) March 2, 2021
Translation: Regarding the car accident reported in Imperial Valley today, @ConsulMexCal has remained in touch with local authorities. Unfortunately, consular staff have so far confirmed the deaths of 10 Mexicans.
Mexicans were also among the injured, he said.
Passenger injuries ranged from mild to severe and included fractures and head injuries. They were cared for in several hospitals. One person was treated in a hospital and released.
The 1997 Ford Expedition seats were removed, with the exception of the driver and right passenger, said Omar Watson, chief of borders for the California Highway Patrol.
The cause of the collision is uncertain, the authorities said, and it is also not known why so many people were crammed into a vehicle that was supposed to keep eight people safe. However, smugglers are known to package people in extremely unsafe conditions in order to maximize their profits.
The crash occurred during the height of the harvest in California’s Imperial Valley, which supplies much of the lettuce, onions, broccoli and winter vegetables to US supermarkets. Holtville, a city without traffic lights with a pavilion in the large central square, calls itself the carrot capital of the world.
The area became a major route for illegal border crossings in the late 1990s after increased enforcement in San Diego pushed migrants to more remote areas. Many crossed the All-American Canal, an aqueduct that runs along the border that gives the Colorado River water to farms through a vast network of canals.
Members of the multidisciplinary accident investigation team (MAIT) investigate the scene of the accident [Bing Guan/Reuters]At the back of Terrace Park Cemetery in Holtville, individual bricks – rows of them – mark the unidentified remains of people who have died, including many migrants.
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.
Irregular crossings fell sharply in the mid-2000s, but the area remains a draw for migrants and was a priority in building the Wall under former President Donald Trump. The first wall project of his administration was in Calexico.
The people in the vehicle were between 15 and 53 years old and were a mix of men and women, officials said [Bing Guan/Reuters]The US Immigration and Customs Service announced late Tuesday that Homeland Security agents “have opened an investigation into people smuggling [into Tuesday’s crash]. The investigation is ongoing and no further details are currently available. “
When police arrived about 200 km east of San Diego, some passengers tried to crawl out of the crumpled SUV while others wandered across the fields. The front end of the rig was slid into the left side of the SUV and two empty trailers were stabbed behind it.
“It was a pretty chaotic scene,” said Omar Watson, border patrol chief of the highway patrol.