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Deadly crash involving truck, SUV prompts human smuggling investigation

At least 13 killed in crash near US-Mexico border

Authorities are investigating whether human smuggling was involved in a crash Tuesday that killed more than a dozen people in Southern California.

The crash between a Ford Expedition carrying 25 people and a double tractor-trailer occurred a few miles northwest of Holtville, California, around 6:15 a.m., according to officials.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement that its Homeland Security Investigations unit has initiated a human smuggling investigation into the crash.

The names of the victims have not been released. The Mexican Consulate in Calexico, California, tweeted that 10 of the people killed were Mexican citizens and that nationalities of the three others who died have not been determined.

Passengers in the SUV ranged in age from 15 to 53 and were a mix of men and women, officials said. 

The SUV entered an intersection directly in front of a tractor-trailer, which hit the left side of the vehicle, according to Omar Watson, California Highway Patrol Border Division chief.

“It’s unknown whether or not the [Ford Expedition] stopped at the stop sign, but it did enter the intersection in front of the big rig. Subsequently, the big rig collided with the left side of the Ford Expedition,” Watson said during a Tuesday press conference.

Watson said 13 people died due to injuries suffered in the crash, 12 at the scene and another afterward at a nearby hospital.

El Centro Regional Medical Center authorities reported Tuesday that 28 people were riding in the SUV when it crashed and that 15 people had died, including 14 at the scene and one at the hospital.

Watson also said it is unclear whether the victims in the SUV were migrant workers being taken to or from an agricultural job, or whether they were immigrants traveling into the country.

The driver of the tractor-trailer suffered moderate injuries and was taken to a nearby medical facility.

Despite previous reports indicating the tractor was hauling gravel, Watson said the truck was towing two empty trailers.

Photos from the accident scene show a collision between the Ford Expedition and a tractor bearing the logo of Havens & Sons Trucking, a freight hauling company based in El Centro, California.

A woman who answered the phone at Havens & Sons said the company had “no comment” on the accident.

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Noi Mahoney

Noi Mahoney is a Texas-based journalist who covers cross-border trade, logistics and supply chains for FreightWaves. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1998. Mahoney has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working for newspapers in Florida, Maryland and Texas. Contact