By Miriam Raftery
Photo via U.S. Customs and Border Patrol: hole cut in border fence, where the ill-fated SUV is believed to have entered the U.S.
March 4, 2021 (Holtville) – The California Highway Patrol today released names of a dozen survivors of a horrific collision near Holtville on Tuesday when a semi-truck carrying a load of gravel struck a Ford Expedition SUV with 25 people inside. The crash killed 13 of them, including the driver of the SUV.
According to a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol statement, all of the SUV occupants are “suspected to have entered the U.S. illegally” along with a second vehicle seen on surveillance video leaving an area where a hole had been cut through the border fence.
The Ford SUV had its seats removed, so passengers were not wearing seat belts and many were ejected onto the roadway after the big rig struck the SUV at the intersection of State Route 115 and Norrish Road near Holtville.
The other vehicle suspected of crossing through the border fence, a Chevrolet Suburban, caught fire near I-8 and State Route 115, but all 19 people in it were able to escape the flaming vehicle and were taken into custody by the Border Patrol.
The Border Patrol has denied any pursuit or effort to stop either vehicle, USA Today reports. Gregory Bovino, chief of the Border Patrol’s El Centro sector, offered prayers for the victims and their families. He added, “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."
Names of those who died have not yet been released, though the Mexican government has indicated that at least 10 of the 12 who died were Mexican nationals and another was from Guatemala, per the Guatemalan Consulate in Los Angeles. All of the deceased were adults, though the ages of those in the SUV ranged from 15 to 53.At least one had family in Mexico, according to the Mexican Consulate.
The California Highway Patrol has released names of 11 people who were injured, their country of origin, and their conditions. The twelfth injured passenger, a 15-year-old girl with major injuries, has not yet been identified. Two of the injured were flown to Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego.
Ford Passenger Information (Name, Age, Gender, Residence, Level of Injury)
Only passenger #3 was identified with her photo identification. All other passengers were identified by stated name, date of birth, and residence.
The tragedy has made headlines nationwide, reigniting a debate over immigration.
The section of border fence breached had not yet been replaced under the Trump administration, which did install 30 miles of a new border wall fortified with bollards. Conservatives have long clamored for more secure border walls to prevent illegal immigration, though in practice, border fences and walls have often pushed migrants into more dangerous terrain and smugglers into more desperate attempts to cross the border.
But Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, whose district includes Holtville, called for passage of comprehensive immigration reforms by Congress. In a statement, he says, “Our broken immigration system is a humanitarian, public and economic crisis impacting communities on both sides of the border,” he said. “Tragedies like this place wider public attention on the dark realities of our immigration struggle in the United States and the danger immigrant families face for a chance at a better life.”
Many residents of Mexico have long crossed the border in Imperial Valley on a daily basis to pick crops in the agricultural area, though a United Farmworkers spokesman told Associated Press (AP) that the crash victims were not farmworkers. The Border Patrol is conducting an investigation into suspected smuggling of the vicitms.
Tekandi Paniagua at the Guatemalan Consul told AP that migrants have relied on misinformation. “They have to know that the border remains just as guarded as it has always been,” he cautioned.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the SUV was so overloaded that it would have been difficult to brake or steer.