Wednesday, 3 March 2021

REVEALED: Ford SUV which can safely carry eight people had seats removed and was transporting '25 illegal immigrants' when it crashed near the Mexican border in California killing at least 13

 The Ford SUV that was carrying '25 illegal immigrants' as it pulled out in front of a semi-truck in southern California early on Tuesday morning had seats removed to allow for more people to be packed in, according to new reports.  

At least 13 people were killed, including ten Mexican nationals, when the crash occurred on State Route 115 in the area of El Centro, 10 miles north of the US-Mexico border, at around 6:15am local time, authorities said. 

The SUV, a maroon Ford Expedition, had been driving westbound on Norrish Road when it traveled 'in the direct path' of an unloaded gravel truck heading northbound on 115.  


Victims were flung from the crowded car, which normally can only safely hold eight people, onto the road, authorities said. 

'I don't know if they were cut out or removed, I'm not sure, but they were not in the vehicle,' said California Highway Patrol Chief Omar Watson of the SUV's back seats. 'What it indicates is that there were not enough safety belts for the passengers.' 

The driver of the Expedition, a 22-year-old Mexican national from Mexicali, was among those killed. It is not yet known why he drove into the intersection in front of the semi truck and if he had stopped at the stop sign, or if the vehicle was registered to him. 

The Mexican Consulate confirmed to CNN that at least ten of those killed were Mexican but that it was still trying to confirm the identity of the other three victims.  


The Ford SUV that was carrying '25 illegal immigrants' as it pulled out in front of a semi-truck in southern California early in Tuesday morning had seats removed to allow for more people to be packed in. Pictured, law enforcement inspect the scene of the deadly crash at State Route 115 on Tuesday in which at 13 people were killed, including 10 Mexican nationals

The Ford SUV that was carrying '25 illegal immigrants' as it pulled out in front of a semi-truck in southern California early in Tuesday morning had seats removed to allow for more people to be packed in. Pictured, law enforcement inspect the scene of the deadly crash at State Route 115 on Tuesday in which at 13 people were killed, including 10 Mexican nationals

The Ford SUV is only supposed to hold eight people but was packed with more than two dozen

The Ford SUV is only supposed to hold eight people but was packed with more than two dozen

The driver of the Expedition (pictured), a 22-year-old Mexican national from Mexicali, was among those killed

The driver of the Expedition (pictured), a 22-year-old Mexican national from Mexicali, was among those killed

Law enforcement officers sort evidence and debris at the scene of the deadly crash on Tuesday evening

Law enforcement officers sort evidence and debris at the scene of the deadly crash on Tuesday evening

The 69-year-old semi driver from El Centro, California, was also taken to hospital for his injuries. He is expected to survive. Authorities said that the semi truck had not yet been loaded with gravel when the crash occurred

The 69-year-old semi driver from El Centro, California, was also taken to hospital for his injuries. He is expected to survive. Authorities said that the semi truck had not yet been loaded with gravel when the crash occurred

Chief Omar Watson of the California Highway Patrol Border confirmed the Ford driver was a 22-year-old Mexican man

Chief Omar Watson of the California Highway Patrol Border confirmed the Ford driver was a 22-year-old Mexican man

Authorities said in a press briefing on Tuesday afternoon that many of the passengers of the SUV did not speak English and that they had not provided further information on what caused the crash. 

Earlier Tuesday, chief executive officer of El Centro Regional, Dr. Adolphe Edward, said he believed that all the victims in the SUV were undocumented migrants. 

The claim is yet to be confirmed by authorities but a Border Patrol source told Fox News that they were undocumented. 

The source added that the crash happened after a hole had been cut in the border fence near Calexico and two vehicles crammed with people had driven through in the early hours of the morning. They added that it had evaded a mobile camera system set up nearby. 

Fox reported that the source claimed border patrol had not been on the look out for human smugglers until it was informed by Imperial County Sheriffs Office of the crash that happened eight miles away later that morning. 

Twelve people were found dead at the scene of the crash, including the driver of the Ford, and another victim died after arriving at El Centro Regional Medical Center, California Highway Patrol Chief Omar Watson said in a press briefing on Tuesday afternoon.  

An area hospital had initially said at least 15 had died, but CHP later clarified the numbers.  

Several other passengers of the SUV were also hurt, all aged between their early 20s and their 50s. 

Authorities said victims were flung from the packed car that was holding more than three times the safe number of people

Authorities said victims were flung from the packed car that was holding more than three times the safe number of people

The driver of the SUV had pulled into the intersection in front of the truck. It is not yet clear why he did so

The driver of the SUV had pulled into the intersection in front of the truck. It is not yet clear why he did so

Investigators look over the scene of the crash which has left 13 people dead and at least three in intensive care

Investigators look over the scene of the crash which has left 13 people dead and at least three in intensive care

Crosses are seen near the scene of a crash between an SUV and a semi-truck near Holtville, California, on Tuesday

Crosses are seen near the scene of a crash between an SUV and a semi-truck near Holtville, California, on Tuesday

Investigators and California Highway Patrol Border Division officers look over the scene of Tuesday's crash

Investigators and California Highway Patrol Border Division officers look over the scene of Tuesday's crash

California Highway Patrol officers and members of the Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Teams work at the site

California Highway Patrol officers and members of the Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Teams work at the site

Members of the California Highway Patrol speak to the media in front of wreckage from an SUV that collided with a semi truck along State Route 115 in Holtville, California, on Tuesday. They said some of the victims were found with identification cards

Members of the California Highway Patrol speak to the media in front of wreckage from an SUV that collided with a semi truck along State Route 115 in Holtville, California, on Tuesday. They said some of the victims were found with identification cards

At least five of the injured were airlifted from the scene, three of whom are currently in intensive care at the trauma center of Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs.   

The 69-year-old semi driver from El Centro, California, was also taken to hospital for his injuries. He is expected to survive. 

The truck struck the left side of the SUV, which appeared to have been pushed off the road. 

'It would be premature for me to speculate or discuss what caused this collision. What we have to keep in mind is that 13 people died in this crash,' Watson said. 'It's a very sad situation.' 

'Twenty-five passengers were inside the Ford Expedition at the time of impact. The older-model Ford should only fit eight people,' Watson said. 

'Obviously, that vehicle's not meant for that many people,' he added. 'It's unfortunate that that many people were put into that vehicle because there´s not enough safety constraints to safely keep those people in that vehicle.' 

An activist laid tributes to the 13 victims of the crash near the scene on Tuesday evening

An activist laid tributes to the 13 victims of the crash near the scene on Tuesday evening

A Ford Expedition SUV (seen above) reported to be carrying 27 passengers on board had been travelling westbound on Norrish Road when it traveled 'in the direct path' of a gravel truck heading northbound on 115

A spokesman for the California Highway Patrol said that the driver of the truck suffered only minor injuries

A spokesman for the California Highway Patrol said that the driver of the truck suffered only minor injuries

Several other passengers of the SUV were hurt, including an undisclosed number of children

Several other passengers of the SUV were hurt, including an undisclosed number of children

Dr. Adolphe Edward, the chief executive officer of El Centro Regional, said he believed that all the victims in the SUV were undocumented migrants

Dr. Adolphe Edward, the chief executive officer of El Centro Regional, said he believed that all the victims in the SUV were undocumented migrants

Twelve people were found dead at the scene, Judy Cruz, the managing director of the emergency department at the El Centro Regional Medical Center said at a news conference

Twelve people were found dead at the scene, Judy Cruz, the managing director of the emergency department at the El Centro Regional Medical Center said at a news conference

All lanes of northbound and southbound SR-115 at Norrish Road are closed, and motorists are told to avoid the area

All lanes of northbound and southbound SR-115 at Norrish Road are closed, and motorists are told to avoid the area


Numerous people were ejected from the vehicle, while others 'were able to pull themselves' out of the wreck, according to Watson. Injuries are said to vary in severity from fractures, to chest injuries, to head traumas. 

He said that several of those in the car had identification cards with them but would not confirm their nationalities. Watson added that the youngest person in the car was 16 years old and that there were no young children as previously reported. 

He added that there was an even split of women and men in the vehicle but that he couldn't say where they were traveling from. 

'We are close to the border so we do have people who come back and forth on a daily basis for work so that something that we couldn't rule out,' Watson said. 


Macario Mora, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection in Yuma and El Centro, told KTLA his department is assisting with the investigation into the crash. 

He said the immigration status of those in the SUV was unknown and is currently being investigated.

'It was an unusual number of people in an SUV, but we don't know who they were,' Mora said. 'They might have just been farm workers' - not necessarily undocumented.

The California Highway Patrol is working with the Mexican consulate to 'determine who exactly was in the vehicle' in the hopes of identifying next of kin, Watson said. 

'It's important to me is to make sure the families are notified and that we do a thorough investigation so that we know what the cause of the collision was,' he said.

It's unclear if the SUV had stopped at a stop sign before crossing into the path of the semi truck around 6:15am

It's unclear if the SUV had stopped at a stop sign before crossing into the path of the semi truck around 6:15am

Numerous people were ejected from the vehicle on impact, with injuries varying in severity from fractures to head traumas

Numerous people were ejected from the vehicle on impact, with injuries varying in severity from fractures to head traumas

Macario Mora, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection in Yuma and El Centro, told KTLA his department is assisting with the investigation into the crash

Macario Mora, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection in Yuma and El Centro, told KTLA his department is assisting with the investigation into the crash

Fifteen first responders from Imperial County, five fire engines and a helicopter all responded to the initial call

Fifteen first responders from Imperial County, five fire engines and a helicopter all responded to the initial call

Cruz said during Tuesday's press conference that officials believe the SUV was carrying 25 passengers on board when it struck the semi truck

Cruz said during Tuesday's press conference that officials believe the SUV was carrying 25 passengers on board when it struck the semi truck

At least two other fatal accidents have happened at the same location, according to UC Berkeley's Transportation Injury Mapping System

At least two other fatal accidents have happened at the same location, according to UC Berkeley's Transportation Injury Mapping System

Seven people were taken to El Centro Regional Medical Center, where one person has since died

Seven people were taken to El Centro Regional Medical Center, where one person has since died 

The site of the crash is in southeastern California, about 10 miles east of El Centro and about 10 miles north of the Mexican border

The site of the crash is in southeastern California, about 10 miles east of El Centro and about 10 miles north of the Mexican border

The Imperial County Fire Department was called to a 'mass fatality incident' just after 6:15am, on Highway 115, at Norris Road

The Imperial County Fire Department was called to a 'mass fatality incident' just after 6:15am, on Highway 115, at Norris Road


Details surrounding what caused the crash were not immediately available, with the matter currently under investigation.  

However, for decades, there have been concerns about the high death toll in crashes along the California-Mexico border, the LA Times reported.

Many of those wrecks are said to have involved immigrants trying to cross into the US, with a significant number of crashes occurring during chases by American law enforcement. 

Of more than 500 pursuits conducted by US Border Patrol between 2015 and 2018 across California, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, one in three ended in a crash. 

There is no evidence to suggest Tuesday's collision involved a chase, authorities said. 

A spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection told DC Examiner journalist Anna Giaritelli that CBP personnel were not involved in the collision, she tweeted.

Dr. Edward, meanwhile called the incident a 'major accident, with major trauma'. 

'The patients are of course going through a little bit of a difficult time as you can imagine,' he said. 'We are taking care of them in the emergency room department.' 

Dr. Shavonne Borchardt, also of El Centro Regional, said injuries ranged from fractures to life-threatening head and chest injuries. 

'Our staff has done a tremendous job getting everything ready for these patients and being able to handle them and get them transferred out to the appropriate places as soon as possible, or if we can take care of them here, they're being well taken care of as well,' Borchardt said. 

A spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection told DC Examiner journalist Anna Giaritelli that CBP personnel were not involved in the collision

A spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection told DC Examiner journalist Anna Giaritelli that CBP personnel were not involved in the collision

Details surrounding what caused the crash were not immediately available, with the matter currently under investigation

Details surrounding what caused the crash were not immediately available, with the matter currently under investigation

There is no evidence to suggest Tuesday's collision involved a chase with law enforcement

There is no evidence to suggest Tuesday's collision involved a chase with law enforcement

Hugo Castro leaves crosses at the scene of a deadly crash in Holtville, California, on Tuesday, March 2

Hugo Castro leaves crosses at the scene of a deadly crash in Holtville, California, on Tuesday, March 2

Crucifixes and anti-Border Patrol flyers, left by an activist, are seen near the scene of the crash

Crucifixes and anti-Border Patrol flyers, left by an activist, are seen near the scene of the crash

At least five were airlifted from the scene, three of whom are currently in intensive care at the Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs

At least five were airlifted from the scene, three of whom are currently in intensive care at the Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs


Senator Diane Feinstein (D-San Francisco) tweeted that she has been left 'heartbroken' after hearing the news of the fatal crash.

'My office is closely monitoring the situation as we learn more about this horrific crash. My thanks to the Imperial County Fire Department and other first responders for their swift response and the various medical centers in the area that treated injured passengers,' she wrote. 'My thoughts are with the families of all those involved.'

Fifteen first responders from Imperial County, five fire engines and a helicopter all responded to the initial call on Tuesday morning.

The incident was escalated to a 'mass casualty event', which prompted a second-alarm response, with 25 additional personnel called to the scene along with at least four additional ambulances and four air helicopters. 

El Centro Fire Department units attended the scene, along with Customs and Border Patrol officers, who are assisting the Imperial County Sheriff's Office. 

Video posted on social media that purports to show the crash's aftermath depicts a number of police, ambulance and fire vehicles surrounding the wreck.

A jack-knifed truck hauling two trailers it is seen stationary in the middle of the road.

It's currently unclear what speeds the two vehicles were traveling at when they collided. The speed limit for large trucks on the 155 is 55 mph. 

At least two other fatal accidents have happened at the same location previously, according to UC Berkeley's Transportation Injury Mapping System. 

The site of the crash is in southeastern California, about 10 miles east of El Centro and about 10 miles north of the Mexican border. 

All lanes of northbound and southbound SR-115 at Norrish Road remain closed as of Tuesday afternoon, and motorists are told to avoid the area. 

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