Thirteen people were tragically killed with several others severely injured when an SUV carrying 25 people was hit by a big rig in Imperial County on Tuesday morning, according to officials investigating the incident.
Journalist Neda Iranpour tweeted: “UPDATE from CHP on @CBS8 right now: 12 people died on scene of crash in Holtville including the driver of the Ford Expedition carrying 25 people. 1 person died on way to hospital. A total of 13 died, ages range 20-55. A 16 yr old was also injured along with several others. @CBS8“
The California Highway Patrol stated that over 24 people were in a maroon 1997 Ford Expedition—a vehicle that usually accommodates eight or nine people in total—and collided with an empty tractor-trailer on Highway 115 at Norrish Road in Holtville, which is located about 125 miles east of San Diego and about 15 miles north of the Mexican border, according to ABC 7.
C.H.P. officials noted that the SUV drove “directly in the path of the big rig” in the early morning. The Peterbilt truck struck the left side of the SUV after the SUV crossed the intersection, which appeared to pull off the road. Investigators are now attempting to figure out if the SUV first stopped at the stop sign before entering the intersection.
Authorities said that the ages of those in the SUV ranged between 15 and 53. A number of people were thrown from the vehicle and onto the road as a result of the accident, according to officials. Though the initial report said that there were young children in the vehicle, it was later discovered that the youngest in the vehicle was 15.
Among those who were killed was the SUV driver, who was described as a man from Mexicali. It is still under investigation where the 25 people in the SUV were heading and why there were so many in the vehicle at the same time.
The Mexican government issued a statement saying that the consulate has confirmed that at least 10 of the deceased were Mexican nationals and authorities were still working to confirm the identities of the other three who were killed in the crash.
There was also suspicion that human smuggling may have been involved, prompting the involvement of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Reporter Anna Giaritelli tweeted: “Accident was in the southeastern California town of Imperial, which is 15 miles north of the international border. It’s not unusual for @CBP to pursue vehicles suspected of smuggling people, but they said they were not involved in this accident.”
“Special Agents from Homeland Security Investigations San Diego responded to the scene of today’s fatal crash in El Centro, California, and have initiated a human smuggling investigation,” the agency said. “The investigation is ongoing and no further details are available at this time.”
Officials confirmed that the SUV had the interior seats removed completely, so that there were only seats for the driver and the front passenger. No seat belts were available for any of the other occupants.
ABC 7 reported:
Judy Cruz, director of El Centro Regional Medical Center’s emergency department, initially said 14 people died at the scene and another died after arriving. However, authorities later said 12 occupants including the driver succumbed to injuries on the scene. One other person was transported to an area hospital where they also succumbed to their injuries.
There were at least four ambulances on the scene and four helicopters that were called in to respond to the incident.