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SUV In Deadly Imperial Valley Crash Came Through Hole In Border Fence

 March 3, 2021 at 10:14 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 There are new developments in a deadly Imperial County crash that killed 13 people after a tractor trailer hit an SUV carrying 25 people. Now with already say the SUV entered the U S through a hole that had been cut into the border fence between Mexico and California. And there's much more to that story. Joining us is KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman with the latest Matt. Welcome. Hey JJ, what more can you tell us about the new developments revealed by the border patrol this morning? Yes. Speaker 2: 00:28 Some new developments are being reported by the associated press, basically saying that that SUV also entered with another SUV, a Chevy, um, and they entered about 30 miles, uh, from the spot of that crash, um, that it was through a small area in the border fence. Um, and that this is basically being investigated as a human smuggling operation right now, Speaker 1: 00:48 Was anyone taken into custody? Speaker 2: 00:50 We don't know that at this time, you know, but we do know that this is a very fluid situation. Speaker 1: 00:56 And do we know the status of the survivors who were involved in that crash in the SUV? Speaker 2: 01:01 Right. So we know some of those survivors that suffered some of the worst injuries, some of the most traumatic injuries, they were airlifted to San Diego. So we know that four of those patients were taken to UC San Diego medical center in Hillcrest. And we actually got an update from them basically saying that that accident near El Centro all are in serious condition. They're all staying there, uh, receiving care for a variety of traumatic injuries, um, at the level one trauma center. And two of those patients were also taken to Scripps mercy hospital, not far away from there. And we do know that the CHP basically said that people in this accident suffered a variety of injuries from, you know, very severe to people who they described as quote unquote, walking wounded. Speaker 1: 01:39 What do investigators know specifically about the cause of that crash with the semi? Speaker 2: 01:45 There's not a whole lot known right now. Um, obviously, you know, there may not be any witnesses to that crash besides some of the survivors that were there. Um, one thing to note it was not a T-bone crash, so that truck, uh, collided with the driver's side, um, you know, it didn't send the truck spinning. It looks like it made contact with the driver's side door and the passenger side door. Um, we do know that there are, there appears to be some skid marks or there might, may have been some braking involved there. Uh, we do know that federal authorities, the NTSB is investigating this along with the CHP. Um, so we'll see, we, we do know that that SUV was driving along a road that had a stop sign. So they're trying to see maybe if that stop sign was blown, uh, but it's going to take, you know, a lot of forensic investigations to try and figure that out Speaker 1: 02:25 And tell us about the area this crash happened in. Was it a remote area? Speaker 2: 02:30 Uh, it it's, it's in a very small town. And one thing to note on that as well, the driver, uh, of that SUV who is a Mexican national, uh, he did, uh, pass away in this accident. So that's something that they're not gonna be able to question that driver about what happened, but yes, it happened, uh, and an area near El Centro, uh, that, uh, is in a very small town. Speaker 1: 02:49 Hmm. Many workers commute daily from Mexico to work on nearby farms in that area, especially during this time of the year. What can you tell me about that? Speaker 2: 02:57 Yeah. You know, it, it, it's the, of the seasonal harvest in that area. And, you know, initially yesterday when this happened, it happened early in the morning, you know, first reported around, you know, six in the morning. And, uh, CHP was not ruling out that this, that these could have been, you know, workers that were on their way to work. Um, because this is a town that's very close to the border about 10, 11 miles away. Um, and there are people there who traveled the border regularly to go to work. Um, now obviously as we're learning some new information here from the border patrol from some federal authorities, um, appears to be shifting their focus to this being a potentially, you know, migrant smuggling operation, Speaker 1: 03:31 How were 25 people able to fit inside of this SUV? Yeah. Speaker 2: 03:36 It was a question that authorities were asked quite a bit. Um, you know, we're, we're finding out that, um, apparently inside that SUV, that Ford expedition, that there were just the front and passenger seats that the rear seats had been removed. Um, but yeah, you know, as you mentioned, I think nine people is what it's rated to carry. Um, so 25 people definitely, uh, over the load there. Speaker 1: 03:55 Okay. And when a vehicle is, is that full, was that many people inside of what effect does it have on, on how it operates? Speaker 2: 04:02 Yeah, obviously, you know, you can imagine when a vehicle is that overloaded, that it's might, might affect its ability to stop very quickly. Uh, one thing to note too, as well, that semi-truck trailer and to kind of paint a visual for you, um, it's, you know, imagine two trailers, it's a gravel trailer sort of, you know, with the triangle shape to triangle se shaped trailer trailers, and that is not carrying any gravel. So I'm not sure if that impacted that truck's ability to stop or not. Speaker 1: 04:28 Where does the investigation go from here right Speaker 2: 04:31 Now? The investigation, you know, goes to that forensic investigation, you know, where the CHP and now a federal authorities are going to try to piece together, you know, sort of what happened. Obviously, you know, we have the truck driver, um, who was taken to the hospital, but apparently he's doing okay. So they have him as a witness that we do know that they were able to question some of the people inside the vehicle. But yesterday the CHP had said that they weren't able to provide any preliminary information about why that accident may have happened. So, you know, using those tire marks to try to piece together what sort of happens, uh, and where we move forward. Keep in mind too, that driver of the semi-truck of the CHP saying yesterday, you know, um, that nothing's off the table, so to speak, if they have to go down the road and maybe file criminal charges with the district attorney, should they find that he may have been at fault for this accident? Speaker 1: 05:15 All right. Something I know you will continue to cover. I have been speaking with KPBS reporter, Matt Hoffman, Matt. Thank you very much for joining us. Thanks, Jane.

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Thirteen people killed in one of the deadliest border crashes on record were among 44 people who entered the U.S. through a hole cut into Southern California's border fence with Mexico, the Border Patrol said Wednesday.
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