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Federal authorities investigate possible human smuggling connection in deadly California crash

California Highway Crash Imperial County Holtville SUV
Posted at 11:40 AM, Mar 03, 2021

HOLTVILLE, Calif. -- Authorities are investigating whether human smuggling was involved when an SUV packed with 25 people slammed into a tractor-trailer in Imperial County, California, killing the driver and 12 passengers.

Seats of the 1997 Ford Expedition were removed, making room for more people, and at least 10 who died in Tuesday's crash were from Mexico, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The Associated Press confirmed Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations team has "initiated a human smuggling investigation (into Tuesday’s crash). The investigation is ongoing and no further details are available at this time.”

Tuesday's deadly collision between the SUV and gravel truck happened around 6:15 a.m. in Holtville, about ten miles north of the Mexican border, the CHP said. The truck's 69-year-old driver was not seriously injured.

CHP officials said 12 people died at the scene, with another victim passing away at the hospital. Officials said the impact caused several of the SUV's occupants to be ejected onto the roadway.

Six patients were transferred to San Diego-area hospitals for treatment -- four were airlifted to UC San Diego Medical Center and two were taken to Scripps Memorial Hospital.

The area where the crash happened became a major route for illegal border crossings in the late 1990s after heightened enforcement in San Diego pushed migrants to more remote areas, the Associated Press reported.

Elliot Spagat contributed to this story originally reported on