By MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News
(HOLTVILLE, Calif.) — Authorities have begun to identify the victims of a deadly car crash that happened earlier this week in California, just north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
The incident was one of the deadliest border crashes on record and it’s believed to be linked to a migrant smuggling operation.
The collision occurred Tuesday morning on California State Route 115 at an intersection near the city of Holtville, about 125 miles east of San Diego and about 10 miles from the country’s border with Mexico. A 2011 Peterbilt tractor-trailer slammed into a 1997 Ford Expedition that was carrying 25 people. Thirteen occupants of the Ford Expedition, including the driver, were killed while the other 12 were injured, many of them severely. The driver of the tractor-trailer also suffered major injuries, according to the California Highway Patrol.
All 13 who lost their lives “are suspected to have entered the U.S. illegally,” according to the United States Customs and Border Protection.
Mexico’s foreign consulate in Calexico, California, said in a statement Tuesday that at least 10 of those killed in the accident were Mexican citizens.
On Thursday, the California Highway Patrol released the identities of the 12 injured passengers of the Ford Expedition. They range in age from 15 to 46, and all but one sustained major injuries in the crash. At least seven of them reside in Mexico and two live in Guatemala, while the residences of the other three were unknown.
All 12 remain hospitalized in Southern California, mostly in San Diego and Palm Springs, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Shortly before the accident happened, U.S. border patrol agents reported a “10-foot breach” in the international boundary fence between Mexico and the United States near Interstate 8. They reviewed surveillance footage that showed two different vehicles leaving the area in proximity of the hole in the fence, according to the United States Customs and Border Protection.
A red Chevrolet Suburban engulfed in flames was located near the intersection of Interstate 8 and California State Route 115 close to the city of Calexico, about 15 miles southwest of Holtville. Border patrol agents assisting with the incident encountered 19 individuals hiding in the brush nearby and determined that they had entered the country illegally through the opening in the border fence. They were taken into custody, according to the United States Customs and Border Protection.
The hole in the fence was about 30 miles east of the scene of the deadly crash. Border patrol agents did not attempt to stop or pursue the Chevrolet Suburban nor the Ford Expedition prior to the separate incidents involving those vehicles.
“Initial investigation into the origins of the vehicles indicate a potential nexus to the aforementioned breach in the border wall,” El Centro Sector Chief Patrol Agent Gregory Bovino said in a statement Wednesday. “Human smugglers have proven time and again they have little regard for human life. 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.”
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