At least 13 people were killed in southern California on Tuesday when a tractor-trailer slammed into an SUV carrying 25 passengers, officials said.
The crash occurred in the early morning in the dusty farming community of Holtville, near the US-Mexico border.
Those killed, who included the driver of the SUV, ranged in age from 15 to 53, and minors as young as 16 were injured, said Omar Watson, chief of the highway patrol’s border division. He said the driver was 22 years old.
Watson said several of the occupants were ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene; others died inside the SUV, a Ford Expedition which was designed to hold five to eight people.
Hospital officials had previously said that 27 people were in the SUV, and that 15 had died, but Watson said there were 25 passengers and 13 fatalities.
Seven victims were brought to El Centro Regional medical center and three were flown to other hospitals in the area. One person died at the hospital, Cruz said.
“Unfortunately, consular staff have confirmed the death of 10 Mexicans so far,” said Roberto Velasco, the foreign ministry’s director for North America, in a tweet.
Jake Sanchez, a California highway patrol officer, said the crash occurred around 6am PT. The tractor-trailer struck the left side of the SUV, crumpling its exterior and pushing it off the road.
Agriculture drives the economy around Holtville and El Centro. Known as the Imperial Valley, the area is a big producer of fruits, vegetables, grain and cattle despite being a desert, thanks to irrigation from the Colorado river and a long growing season.
By Tuesday afternoon, handmade wooden crosses stretched in a line across a patch of dry grass and dirt next to the highway, and a seat covered in what appeared to be blood lay near the SUV, as the desolate highway remained closed.
The white tractor-trailer cab was still smashed into the wrecked side of the maroon SUV. The entire driver’s side of the smaller vehicle was caved in, and the passenger side was flung wide open.
Several of the victims were taken to El Centro Regional medical center, said Judy Cruz, the director of the hospital’s emergency room, in a news briefing posted on Facebook.
It was not immediately clear how fast the vehicles were going, or whether the SUV had observed a stop sign before heading into the intersection of state route 115 and Norrish Road just outside of Holtville, about 10 miles (16.1 km) north of the border, the California highway patrol said.
In Washington, the National Transportation Safety Board said it will investigate the crash in concert with the California highway patrol. The agency’s investigator-in-charge was expected to arrive on Wednesday, the NTSB said.