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13 dead after big rig slams SUV carrying 25 people, survivors airlifted to Palm Springs

At least 13 people were killed when an SUV carrying 25 people crashed into a big rig Tuesday morning in Imperial County

Four patients from the crash are being treated at Desert Regional Medical Center. Three are in the ICU, DRMC Spokesperson Todd Burke confirms to News Channel 3.

The El Centro Regional Medical Center reported 25 passengers riding in a 1997 Ford Expedition crashed into a semi-truck full of gravel on Tuesday morning. CHP added that the ages of the passengers ranged from 15 to 53 years old.

“It was an unusual number of people in an SUV, but we don’t know who they were,” said Macario Mora, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection in Yuma and El Centro, adding that they could have been farmworkers.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed Tuesday evening that agents are conducting a human smuggling investigation.

“Special Agents from Homeland Security Investigations San Diego responded to the scene of today’s fatal crash in El Centro, California, and have initiated a human smuggling investigation. The investigation is ongoing and no further details are available at this time.”

A hospital official said, "We are aware that children were involved in this accident."

CHP later clarified and said the there were no young children involved.

California Highway Patrol Chief Omar Watson said 12 people died at the scene and another died at the hospital. Among those who died the driver of the Expedition, who was only identified as a Mexicali resident.

Roberto Velasco, director of North American affairs for Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department, confirmed Tuesday on his Twitter account that at least 10 of those killed have been identified as Mexicans. No identities have been released.

Authorities do not yet know if the driver of the Expedition had stopped at a stop sign before crossing into the path of the big rig around 6:15 a.m.

A Ford Expedition typically seats eight people legally. The CHP did not immediately know why so many occupants had been crammed into the SUV.

“Obviously, that vehicle is not meant for that many people,” Watson said. “It’s unfortunate that that many people were put into that vehicle because there’s not enough safety constraints to safely keep those people in that vehicle.”

Three passengers were flown out, seven people were transported to the ECRMC, where one died. Two patients were taken to Pioneers Memorial Hospital.

Imperial County law enforcement is still at the scene, near the intersection of Highway 115 at Norrish Road in Holtville.

News Channel 3 will update here and bring you live reports from the scene and Desert Regional Medical Center on News Channel 3 at Noon.

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Jake Ingrassia

Joining News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 as a reporter, Jake is excited to be launching his broadcasting career here in the desert. Learn more about Jake here.


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