At least 13 people died in a crash west of Yuma | Arizona News

MPERIAL, CA (3TV / CBS 5) – A 25-person SUV drove on a two-lane highway in front of an oncoming tractor-trailer truck through farmland near the U.S.-Mexico border early Tuesday, killing 13 people and leaving bodies strewn on the road. Most of the dead were Mexicans, said a Mexican official.

According to the El Centro Regional Medical Center (ECRMC), 25 passengers were driving in an SUV this morning that hit a gravel-filled semi-trailer. At the time of the accident, only the driver was in the truck.

When police arrived, some passengers were trying to crawl out of the rumpled 1997 Ford Expedition 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.

Twelve people were found dead when first responders reached the freeway that winds through fields in the agricultural southeastern corner of California, about 201 kilometers east of San Diego. Another person died in a hospital, said Omar Watson, chief of California Highway Patrol.

“It was a pretty chaotic scene,” said Watson, who also described it as “a very sad situation”.

Roberto Velasco, director of North American affairs for Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department, confirmed on his Twitter account on Tuesday that at least 10 of those killed were identified as Mexicans. No identities were released.

The cause of the collision is unclear, authorities said, and it is not immediately known why so many people were crammed into a vehicle designed to keep eight people safe.

Watson said the SUV only had front seats – the center and rear seats had been removed. That would allow more people to fit in the vehicle, but it makes it even more unsafe.

During the course of the investigation, authorities will attempt to determine whether the SUV carried migrants after crossing the border in a smuggling operation, taking farm workers to fields or using them for some other purpose.

Macario Mora, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, said agents were not tracking the SUV at the time of the crash, which was originally rumored. He said the immigration status of the passengers is unknown and is being investigated.

“There were an unusual number of people in an SUV, but we don’t know who they were,” said Mora.

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 69-year-old driver of the big rig from nearby El Centro was hospitalized with moderate injuries.

Passenger injuries ranged from mild to severe and included fractures and head injuries. They were cared for in several hospitals. One person was treated and discharged from hospital.

The crash occurred around 6:15 a.m. at an intersection just outside Holtville, which calls itself the carrot capital of the world and is about 11 miles north of the US-Mexico border. It was a sunny, clear morning, and authorities said the truck and its two empty containers were driving north on State Highway 115 when the SUV pulled off Norrish Road before it.

It is not clear whether the SUV had a stop sign or stopped before entering the freeway. It is also not yet known how fast the tractor-trailer went.

According to CHP representative Jake Sanchez, the speed limit for tractor units on the autobahn is 88.5 km / h. The other road is also 55 mph for vehicles.

A 1997 Ford Expedition can carry a maximum payload of 2,000 pounds. If 25 people were inside, it would easily exceed the payload limit, which puts stress on the brakes and makes steering difficult, 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 tended to be top heavy even without carrying a lot of weight, Borris said.

“With all that payload above the vehicle’s center of gravity, it becomes even more unstable,” he said.

The crash occurred amid green farms that grow a variety of vegetables and alfalfa that are used as fodder.

Thousands of people travel to the United States every day to work in the fields. The winter harvest of lettuce and other vegetable vegetables lasts from November to March, and buses and SUVs with farm workers often rumble along the country roads in the early hours of the morning.

Smugglers have also been seen carrying migrants in trucks and vehicles in the area. Hundreds of migrants who died after crossing the border are buried in unmarked graves in Holtville’s cemetery on the outskirts of town.

Editor’s note: Previous reports showed that 15 people were killed in the crash. This story was corrected to reflect that 13 people died.

Associated press reporters Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles, Julie Watson in San Diego, Anita Snow in Phoenix, Tom Krisher in Detroit and Mark Stevenson in Mexico City contributed to this.

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