SUV in crash where 13 died came through hole in border fence

Law enforcement officers sort evidence and debris at the scene of a deadly crash in Holtville, Calif., on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Authorities say a semi-truck crashed into an SUV carrying 25 people on a Southern California highway.

The Border Patrol says 13 people killed in a Southern California crash were among 44 people who entered the U.S. through a hole cut into the border fence with Mexico.

Posted: Mar 3, 2021 1:39 PM
Updated: Mar 3, 2021 5:54 PM

HOLTVILLE, Calif. (AP) — The 13 people killed in one of the deadliest highway crashes involving migrants sneaking into the U.S. had entered California through a section of border fence with Mexico that was cut away, apparently by smugglers, immigration officials said Wednesday.

Surveillance video showed a Ford Expedition and Chevrolet Suburban drive through the opening early Tuesday, said Gregory Bovino, the Border Patrol's El Centro sector chief. The video has not been publicly released because it’s part of an ongoing investigation.

The Suburban carried 19 people, and it caught fire for unknown reasons on a nearby interstate after entering the U.S. All escaped the vehicle and were taken into custody by Border Patrol agents.

The Expedition crammed with 25 people continued on, and a tractor-trailer struck it a short time later. Ten of the 13 killed in that crash have been identified as Mexican citizens. The Border Patrol said its agents were not pursuing the vehicle before the wreck.

The opening in the fence was about 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of the crash in the heart of California’s Imperial Valley, a major farming region now at the height of a harvest that provides much of the lettuce, onions, broccoli and winter vegetables to U.S. supermarkets.

It 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. Photos show a panel of eight steel poles was lifted out and left on the ground in the desert next to an old tire and other debris.

“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.”

The breach occurred in a busy area for illegal crossings near the Imperial Sand Dunes where migrants often climb over an aging barrier and wait for drivers to pick them up, hoping to avoid the scrutiny of Border Patrol agents at checkpoints on highways leading to Los Angeles, San Diego and Phoenix.

A pandemic-related measure that allows the Border Patrol to expel people without an opportunity to seek asylum potentially leads some to try to evade authorities instead of surrendering, sometimes with fatal consequences. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention introduced expulsion powers nearly a year ago under Trump, and the Biden administration has signaled no plans to lift them anytime soon.

The cause of Tuesday's collision wasn't yet known, authorities said. The Expedition is built to hold eight people safely, but smugglers are known to pack people into vehicles in extremely unsafe conditions to maximize their profits.

Seats in the SUV had been removed except for those for the driver and front passenger, said Omar Watson, chief of the California Highway Patrol’s border division.

The crash happened in an area that became a major route for illegal border crossings in the late 1990s after heightened enforcement in San Diego pushed migrants to more remote areas.

Barely a mile from the crash, there is a cemetery with rows of unmarked bricks that is a burial ground for migrants who died crossing the border.

In 2001, John Hunter founded Water Station, a volunteer group that leaves jugs of water in giant plastic drums for dehydrated migrants.

“I was trying to figure out how to stop the deaths,” said Hunter, whose brother Duncan strongly advocated for border wall construction as a congressman.

Illegal crossings in the area fell sharply in the mid-2000s but the area has remained a draw for migrants and was a priority for wall construction under Trump. His administration's first wall project was in Calexico.

When police arrived Tuesday at the crash site about 125 miles (200 kilometers) east of San Diego, some passengers were trying to crawl out of the crumpled SUV. Others were wandering around the nearby fields. The big rig’s front end was pushed into the SUV’s left side and two empty trailers were jackknifed behind it.

The men and women in the SUV ranged in age from 15 to 53, and those who survived had injuries that were minor to severe, including fractures and head trauma, officials said. The driver was from Mexicali, Mexico, just across the border, and was among those killed.

The 68-year-old driver of the big rig, who is from the nearby California community of El Centro, suffered moderate injuries.

The crash occurred around 6:15 a.m. under a clear, sunny sky at an intersection just outside the community of Holtville, about 11 miles (18 kilometers) north of the border. Authorities said the tractor-trailer was heading north on a highway when the SUV pulled in front of it from a road with a stop sign.

It’s not clear if the SUV ran the stop sign or had stopped before entering the highway. How fast both vehicles were going also wasn't yet known.

A 1997 Ford Expedition can carry a maximum payload of 2,000 pounds. If it had 25 people inside, that would easily exceed the payload limit, taxing the brakes and making it tougher to steer the vehicle, said Frank Borris, former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Office of Defects Investigation.

“You’re going to have extended stopping distances, delayed reactions to steering inputs and potential overreaction to any type of high-speed lane change,” said Borris, who now runs a safety consulting business.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 556381

Reported Deaths: 7098
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1158471682
Ramsey47939856
Dakota42586422
Anoka38655415
Washington24993274
Stearns21052219
St. Louis16821298
Scott16013117
Wright14818127
Olmsted1276297
Sherburne1064880
Carver984945
Clay783490
Rice7649101
Blue Earth698640
Kandiyohi628181
Crow Wing618186
Chisago550650
Otter Tail543973
Benton532297
Mower451132
Goodhue444172
Douglas442870
Winona438649
Nobles400648
Morrison396059
McLeod395255
Isanti378259
Itasca373653
Beltrami372957
Polk366067
Steele364014
Becker356048
Lyon348648
Carlton329452
Freeborn328129
Pine312321
Nicollet307542
Brown294739
Mille Lacs282150
Le Sueur270822
Todd268830
Cass250426
Meeker237437
Waseca231421
Martin213429
Wabasha19953
Roseau197818
Renville172543
Hubbard172341
Dodge17193
Redwood166335
Houston162614
Cottonwood157021
Fillmore15179
Pennington151019
Chippewa146537
Wadena144621
Faribault144019
Sibley136410
Kanabec131721
Aitkin128736
Watonwan12569
Rock123019
Jackson117410
Yellow Medicine110819
Pipestone109926
Pope10306
Murray10269
Swift100018
Marshall85617
Stevens82210
Lake78419
Clearwater77814
Koochiching77313
Wilkin77012
Lac qui Parle73622
Big Stone5644
Lincoln5592
Grant5498
Norman5229
Mahnomen5088
Unassigned50378
Kittson46822
Red Lake3877
Traverse3605
Lake of the Woods3073
Cook1460

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 358085

Reported Deaths: 5821
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk56023604
Linn20310330
Scott19111234
Black Hawk15560306
Woodbury14906221
Johnson1405881
Dubuque13162202
Dallas1090196
Pottawattamie10763162
Story1031547
Warren555686
Clinton537790
Cerro Gordo522986
Webster508391
Sioux506673
Marshall477274
Muscatine460796
Des Moines441965
Wapello4254120
Buena Vista421940
Jasper407670
Plymouth397479
Lee368555
Marion354575
Jones293155
Henry286337
Bremer279360
Carroll279351
Crawford261840
Boone258833
Benton250355
Washington249550
Dickinson242343
Mahaska224850
Jackson218242
Kossuth213063
Clay211225
Tama206671
Delaware203039
Winneshiek194433
Page190421
Buchanan188831
Cedar184423
Fayette183041
Wright180435
Hardin179942
Hamilton178149
Harrison176473
Clayton167155
Butler162534
Mills158720
Cherokee157138
Floyd155442
Lyon154841
Madison154119
Poweshiek152733
Allamakee149151
Iowa145524
Hancock143734
Winnebago136131
Grundy135332
Cass134654
Calhoun133211
Jefferson131035
Emmet128740
Shelby128637
Sac127319
Louisa127249
Appanoose126647
Mitchell125341
Union124132
Chickasaw122615
Humboldt118326
Guthrie117929
Franklin112821
Palo Alto111022
Howard102822
Montgomery100637
Unassigned10050
Clarke98323
Keokuk94730
Monroe94128
Ida89733
Adair84532
Pocahontas83721
Monona81230
Davis79924
Greene76710
Osceola75516
Lucas74923
Worth7098
Taylor65312
Fremont6139
Decatur5899
Van Buren55518
Ringgold53623
Wayne52123
Audubon4939
Adams3284
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Cloudy
33° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 22°
Mason City
Cloudy
32° wxIcon
Hi: 42° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 20°
Albert Lea
Cloudy
34° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 25°
Austin
Cloudy
36° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 27°
Charles City
Cloudy
° wxIcon
Hi: 43° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: °
Tracking an arctic front, cooling us down for the workweek
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Sean's Weather 4/19

Image

Mayo Clinic Doctor creates art for patients

Image

Electric car show

Image

Walk a Block

Image

Cleaning up Chester Woods

Image

Little Thistle collecting donations

Image

Rochester United PKG

Image

Grizzlies PKG

Image

Sara's Saturday Night Forecast

Image

April Tool's Day

Community Events