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Motorist Killed, Border Agent Injured In Car Explosion

A motorist was killed and a U.S. Border Patrol agent injured early today when a car exploded in flames at the end of a freeway pursuit in the East County highlands.

The road chase began shortly after midnight, following a report that a driver was heading west on the eastbound side of Interstate 8 near Buckman Springs Road, according to the Border Patrol.

A Border Patrol officer caught up with the wrong-way vehicle a short time later and followed it on a frontage road, said Michael Jimenez, a spokesman for the federal agency.

The errant motorist soon exited onto Old Highway 80 in the Pine Valley area. There, the car ran over a tire-flattening spike strip that authorities had stretched across the roadway, and the driver pulled to a stop, Jimenez said.

As the agent approached the sedan on foot, it suddenly burst into flames, he said.

"And ... the car became engulfed in flames, but I don't know how quickly that occurred," the spokesman told news crews. "It had to have been quick enough for the agent not to be able to move away to avoid being burned."

The unidentified motorist died in the blaze. Medics airlifted the injured agent to UCSD Medical Center in San Diego for treatment of burns that were not considered life-threatening.

A sheriff's bomb-arson team was called in to look into what caused the explosive car fire.

Investigators also were trying to determine if the motorist had been driving the wrong way on the freeway in an attempt to elude detection by law enforcement.

"Sometimes it's a tactics that's used ... by people smuggling in this area, in order to avoid being inspected at the I-8 westbound (Border Patrol) checkpoint," Jimenez told reporters.

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