HOLTVILLE, Calif. – At least 13 people died after an SUV packed with dozens of passengers collided with a semitruck near the U.S.-Mexican border Tuesday, according to California Highway Patrol officials.
Staff with El Centro Regional Medical Center previously said 15 people died and that 27 were in the SUV.
California Highway Patrol Division Chief Omar Watson said the crash involved a big rig hauling two trailers and a Ford Expedition carrying 25 people. The vehicles collided before 6:15 a.m. PST at the intersection of State Route 115 and Norrish Road near Holtville, about 50 miles west of Arizona and 10 miles north of the border.
It was not clear whether the SUV stopped at the intersection’s stop sign, Watson said, but it entered the intersection in front of the big rig, which struck the SUV on the left side.
“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.”
Twelve people died at the scene, including the SUV driver, and one died at the hospital, Watson said. There were children in the SUV, but none of them died, he said. The ages of the people injured range from 16 to 55, and the ages of the people who died ranged from 20 to 55, Watson said.
Several people were thrown from the SUV, and others “were able to pull themselves out of the vehicles,” Watson said. The older-model Ford Expedition should fit only six people, he said.
“Obviously, that vehicle is not meant for that many people. It’s unfortunate that that number of people were put into that vehicle,” Watson said.
Seven patients were taken to El Centro Regional Medical Center, where one person died, emergency room managing director Judy Cruz said in a Facebook Live video Tuesday. The hospital called for air support from other agencies to transport three of the patients to other facilities, she said.
Two patients were taken to Pioneers Memorial Hospital in Brawley, California, Cruz said.
Four patients were airlifted to the trauma center at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, California, hospital spokesperson Todd Burke said. Three were in intensive care.
The driver of the big rig sustained moderate injuries and was among the patients taken to Desert Regional Medical Center, Watson said. Authorities had identified the driver, he said.
“The patients are, of course, going through a little bit of a difficult time as you can imagine,” said Dr. Adolphe Edward, chief executive officer at El Centro Regional Medical Center. “This is a major accident. We are taking care of them in the emergency room department.”
Cruz said the big rig had been carrying gravel.
The California Highway Patrol worked with the Mexican consulateto “determine who exactly was in the vehicle,” Watson said. He said what’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.”
The highway is a well-traveled road, and it was expected to be closed all day, Watson said.The wreckage was at an intersection within a mostly undeveloped area of farmland, and residents from nearby communities ventured to the site Tuesday afternoon. One person placed crosses in the ground.
Archival imagery from Google Maps shows at least one cross at the same intersection. At least two other fatal accidents have happened at the same location, according to the University of California-Berkeley’s Transportation Injury Mapping System.
Customs and Border Protection was on the scene to help the Imperial County Sheriff’s Office and was not involved in the incident, spokesperson Macario Mora told USA TODAY.
“This was not a Border Patrol pursuit,” Watson said.
Contributing: Emily LeCoz and Janet Loehrke, USA TODAY
Colin Atagi reported from Holtville for The Desert Sun. Grace Hauck reported from Chicago for USA TODAY.