At least 13 people, including 10 Mexican nationals, were killed when a semi-trailer crashed into a crowded 25-person SUV on a dusty southern California road near the US-Mexico border.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have launched an investigation into whether it was human trafficking, a spokesperson for the agency said in a statement. communicated.
Handmade wooden crosses stretched in a line across a patch of dry grass and dirt by the side of the road, and a seat covered in what appeared to be blood lay near the wrinkled Ford Expedition, as The desolate highway through the farming community of Holtville remained closed on Tuesday. afternoon.
The white cab of the semi-trailer with yellow trim was still crushed on the wrecked side of the brown SUV. The entire driver’s side of the smaller vehicle collapsed and the passenger side was opened wide.
Those in the vehicle were between 15 and 53 years old and a mix of men and women, officials said. The driver was from Mexicali, Mexico, just across the border, and was among those killed. The 68-year-old driver of the large platform from nearby El Centro was hospitalized with moderate injuries.
“Unfortunately, consular staff have confirmed the deaths of 10 Mexicans so far,” said Roberto Velasco Alvarez, foreign ministry director for North America, in a tweet in Spanish.
Regarding the car accident reported today in the Imperial Valley region, @ConsulMexCal remained in contact with local authorities.
Unfortunately, consulate staff have confirmed the deaths of ten Mexicans to date.
– Roberto Velasco Álvarez (@r_velascoa) March 2, 2021
Translation: Regarding the car crash reported today in the Imperial Valley region, @ConsulMexCal has kept in touch with local authorities. Unfortunately, consular staff have confirmed the deaths of 10 Mexicans so far.
Mexicans were also among the injured, he said.
The injuries to the passengers ranged from mild to severe and included fractures and head trauma. They were treated in several hospitals. One person was treated in a hospital and released.
The seats on the 1997 Ford Expedition have been removed with the exception of the driver and right front passenger, said Omar Watson, head of the California Highway Patrol’s border division.
The cause of the collision was undetermined, authorities said, and it was also unclear why so many people were crammed into a vehicle built to hold eight people safely. But smugglers are known to pack people in extremely dangerous conditions to maximize their profits.
The accident happened at the height of the harvest in California’s Imperial Valley, which supplies much of the lettuce, onions, broccoli and winter vegetables to U.S. supermarkets. Holtville, a traffic-free town with a gazebo in its large central plaza, calls itself the carrot capital of the world.
The area became a major route for illegal border crossings in the late 1990s after stronger law enforcement in San Diego pushed migrants to more remote areas. Many have crossed the All-American Canal, an aqueduct that runs along the border and releases water from the Colorado River to the farms through an extensive network of canals.
At the back of Terrace Park cemetery in Holtville, simple bricks – rows of them – mark the unidentified remains of those who have died, many of whom are migrants.
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 deaths,” Hunter said.
Irregular crossings fell sharply in the mid-2000s, but the area remained a draw for migrants and was a priority for Wall construction under former President Donald Trump. His administration’s first wall project was in Calexico.
US Immigration and Customs Police said Tuesday evening that officers from its Homeland Security Investigation Unit “have opened an investigation into human trafficking.” [into Tuesday’s crash]. The investigation is ongoing and no further details are available at this time. “
When police arrived about 200 km (125 miles) east of San Diego, some passengers were trying to get out of the crumpled SUV while others strolled through the fields. The front of the platform was pushed into the left side of the SUV and two empty trailers were driven behind.
“It was a pretty chaotic scene,” said Omar Watson, head of the highway patrol border division.