Twelve of the thirteen people who died when a gravel-filled semitruck collided with an overloaded SUV in Imperial, California on Tuesday morning were part of a group of over 40 migrants who illegally entered the country through a hole cut into the U.S.-Mexico border fence in California, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
According to the report, officials with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) said surveillance video confirmed that the Ford Expedition carrying 25 passengers and a second vehicle identified as a Chevrolet Suburban carrying 19 passengers drove through the fence hole to enter the country early Tuesday.
The fence “was made of steel bollards that were built before former President Donald Trump blanketed much of the border with taller barriers that go deeper into the ground,” the AP reported.
CBP’s El Centro sector chief Gregory Bovino said that investigators believe the SUVs were part of what was described as a “migrant smuggling operation.”
“Human smugglers have proven time and again they have little regard for human life,” Bovino said. “Those who may be contemplating crossing the border illegally should pause to think of the dangers that all too often end in tragedy, tragedies our Border Patrol Agents and first responders are unfortunately very familiar with.”
Based on the report, it is unclear how the now-deceased driver of the SUV fit into the alleged smuggling activity.
While the Chevy Suburban was forced to stop when it caught fire soon after crossing over the border, the Ford Expedition and its 25 passengers continued on. After covering approximately 30 miles, the vehicle was traveling west on Norrish Road when it crossed Highway 115 placing it in the “direct path” of a northbound tractor trailer, which smashed into the driver’s side of the car. Ten of the 13 victims were identified as Mexican citizens.
The passengers in the Suburban were all able to get out of the vehicle and were soon apprehended by Border Patrol agents.
Following the deadly crash, California Highway Patrol (CHP) Border Division Chief Omar Watson said that investigators did not know how fast the vehicles were going when they collided, but Watson confirmed that several individuals were ejected from the Ford Expedition as a result of the impact. Watson added that the cause of the crash was not known. He also said the SUV was not fleeing authorities and no pursuit of the vehicle had been underway.
While the seating arrangement inside the SUV still remains unclear, Watson confirmed that all of the seats had been removed from the car’s interior, save the driver and passenger seats.
According to the AP, the hole in the border fence is a popular area for illegal crossings from Mexico to the U.S., particularly this time of year, which is the “height of the harvest in the agricultural region that provides much of the lettuce, onions, broccoli, and winter vegetables to U.S. supermarkets.”
[Image via ABC7 screengrab]
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