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13 killed in California crash when big rig hits SUV carrying 25 people

Twelve were found dead at the scene where an SUV and a tractor trailer hauling gravel collided near the U.S.-Mexico border, officials said.
In this image from KYMA law enforcement work at the scene of a deadly crash involving a semitruck and an SUV in Holtville, Calif., on Tuesday.
In this image from KYMA law enforcement work at the scene of a deadly crash involving a semitruck and an SUV in Holtville, Calif., on Tuesday. [ AP ]
Published Mar. 2
Updated Mar. 3

HOLTVILLE, Calif. — Thirteen people were killed Tuesday when an SUV carrying 25 people and a semitruck collided on a Southern California highway near the U.S.-Mexico border, authorities said.

Twelve people were found dead when first responders reached the highway, which winds through fields in the agricultural southeastern corner of California. Another person died at a hospital, California Highway Patrol Chief Omar Watson said.

Related: SUV in California crash that killed 13 came through hole in border fence

Authorities do not yet know if the driver of the Ford Expedition, who died in the crash, had stopped at a stop sign before crossing into the path of the big rig around 6:15 a.m., Watson said. The gravel-hauling semitruck hit the left side of the SUV, which appeared to have been pushed off the road that’s about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of San Diego.

Watson described a grisly scene outside Holtville, a rural town about 11 miles (18 kilometers) north of the border with farms that grow vegetables and alfalfa for cattle feed. Officers arrived to find that some people had been ejected from the SUV onto the ground. Some of the passengers had pulled themselves from the wreckage, and others who were injured were wandering around.

A Ford Expedition typically seats eight people legally. The CHP did not immediately know why so many occupants had been crammed into the SUV.

“Obviously, that vehicle is not meant for that many people,” Watson said. “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.”

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The driver of the big rig, which was hauling two trailers of gravel, was hospitalized with moderate injuries.

El Centro Regional Medical Center officials earlier reported there were 15 killed and more people in the SUV. Seven people were taken to that hospital, including one person who later died.

Others from the SUV were flown or sent to other hospitals for injuries that included fractures and head trauma. Four were flown to Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, where one person is in critical condition and the others are stable, spokesman Todd Burke said.

The truck was traveling north on a two-lane highway, and the SUV was going west along a road where there’s a stop sign before it intersects with the highway, CHP Officer Arturo Platero said. Authorities don’t know how fast either vehicle was going.

Macario Mora, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection in Yuma and El Centro, said the Border Patrol was helping other law enforcement with the crash. He said the immigration status of those in the SUV was unknown and being investigated.

Authorities are working with the Mexican consulate to identify the victims, who range in age from 20 to 55. Among the injured, the youngest is 16.

“It was an unusual number of people in an SUV, but we don’t know who they were,” Mora said, adding that they could have been farmworkers.

A harvest is underway in the region, where farmworkers will collect most of the winter lettuce and other leafy greens eaten in the United States.

By Associated Press Writer Elliot Spagat. Associated Press reporters Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles, Julie Watson in San Diego and Anita Snow in Phoenix contributed.

El CENTRO, Calif. — A semitruck on Tuesday crashed into an SUV believed to be carrying 27 people on a Southern California highway, killing 15 people and leaving others injured, hospital officials said.

Judy Cruz, director of El Centro Regional Medical Center’s emergency department, said 14 people died at the scene, which is about 11 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, and another died after arriving at the hospital.

Hospital officials believe 27 people were in an SUV that collided with a tractor-trailer full of gravel on a highway in the agricultural southeastern corner of California, about 100 miles east of San Diego.

California Highway Patrol Officer Jake Sanchez, who was on his way to the crash site, said the SUV was a Ford Expedition that would typically seat eight to nine people legally.

He said the SUV had stopped at an intersection and then drove “directly in the path of the big rig” around 6:15 a.m. The semitruck struck the left side of the SUV, which appeared to have been pushed off the road.

Multiple patients were sent to hospitals for their injuries, including four flown to Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, spokesman Todd Burke said. Three were in intensive care, he said. The truck driver received minor injuries.

Macario Mora, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection in Yuma and El Centro, said the Border Patrol was helping other law enforcement with the crash. He said the immigration status of those in the SUV was unknown and being investigated.

“It was an unusual number of people in an SUV, but we don’t know who they were,” Mora said, adding that they could have been farmworkers.

A harvest is underway in the region of most of the winter lettuce and other leafy greens eaten in the United States.

Officials from the Holtville and Imperial County fire departments, as well as the California Highway Patrol spokesperson for the area, could not immediately be reached.

By Associated Press Writer Elliot Sagat. Associated Press reporters Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles, Julie Watson in San Diego and Anita Snow in Phoenix contributed.