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Thursday, 4 March 2021

Border Patrol reveals the SUV involved in fatal crash that killed 13 people drove through a hole in the Mexican border fence an hour before

 Thirteen people killed after the SUV they were crammed into collided with a semi-truck early Tuesday morning in southern California had entered the United States illegally though a hole cut in the border fence, authorities revealed Wednesday. 

The SUV, a Ford Expedition, had been modified with the backseats removed so that 25 people in total could be packed inside, in what is now believed to have been part of a larger smuggling operation. 

It was one of the deadliest crashes involving migrants sneaking into the U.S. 

Border Patrol's El Centro sector released pictures of the 10-foot breach in the International Boundary Fence on Wednesday, as it revealed that surveillance footage picked up the SUV and a Chevrolet Suburban driving through the gap before 6am Tuesday. 

That section of the fence, consisting of steel bars 18 feet tall, was installed in 2009, some eight years before the Trump administration took office calling for a border wall. 

In total, 44 people crossed the border through the hole, including at least ten Mexicans and two Guatemalans. 

'All are suspected to have entered the U.S. illegally,' US Border and Customs Protection said in a statement. 'Border Patrol is investigating the smuggling events.' 

This photo provided by the US Customs and Border Protection shows a hole cut into Southern California's border fence with Mexico through which 44 people crossed into the country in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Thirteen of them died in a crash just an hour later

This photo provided by the US Customs and Border Protection shows a hole cut into Southern California's border fence with Mexico through which 44 people crossed into the country in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Thirteen of them died in a crash just an hour later

Construction equipment is used to fix a border fence after two vehicles crossed into the US on Tuesday morning. One of the vehicles, an SUV carrying 25 people, was involved in a collision that was one of the deadliest crashes involving migrants sneaking into the U.S.

Construction equipment is used to fix a border fence after two vehicles crossed into the US on Tuesday morning. One of the vehicles, an SUV carrying 25 people, was involved in a collision that was one of the deadliest crashes involving migrants sneaking into the U.S.

US Customs and Border Protection revealed on Wednesday that the Mexican migrants involved in the crash had entered the country illegally through this gap in the border fence
This photo provided by the US Customs and Border Protection shows a hole cut into Southern California's border fence with Mexico

US Customs and Border Protection revealed on Wednesday that the Mexican migrants involved in the crash had entered the country illegally through this gap in the border fence

The SUV pictured above crossed over the US-Mexican border illegally on Tuesday morning before crashing into a gravel truck in a fatal collision that killed 13 people

The SUV pictured above crossed over the US-Mexican border illegally on Tuesday morning before crashing into a gravel truck in a fatal collision that killed 13 people

The Suburban, carrying 19 people, caught fire for unknown reasons on a nearby interstate after entering the U.S. 


All escaped the vehicle and were taken into custody by Border Patrol agents after they received a call about the fire at around 5:56 a.m.

Agents arrived at the scene at around 6.30am where they found the vehicle engulfed in flames and 19 people hiding behind a nearby bush. 

The SUV had traveled further before it drove into an intersection in front of the truck. 

Twelve people were killed at the scene, including the 22-year-old driver of the Expedition who was a Mexican national. 

Another passenger in the SUV died in hospital bringing the total death toll to 13. 

Ten of the 13 killed in that crash have been identified as Mexican citizens although some of their families are located in the U.S. 

Guatemalan authorities said they had preliminary information that one Guatemalan national died and another was injured in the crash. 

The Border Patrol said its agents were not pursuing the vehicle before the wreck. 

The driver of the truck has now been identified as Joe Beltran, 68, of El Centro. He was taken to hospital with major injuries. 

The opening in the fence was about 30 miles east of the crash in the heart of California's Imperial Valley, a major farming region now at the height of a harvest that provides much of the lettuce, onions, broccoli and winter vegetables to U.S. supermarkets. 

It was made of steel bollards that were built before former President Donald Trump blanketed much of the border with taller barriers that go deeper into the ground. 

Photos show a panel of eight steel poles was lifted out and left on the ground in the desert next to an old tire and other debris. 

'Initial investigation into the origins of the vehicles indicate a potential nexus to the aforementioned breach in the border wall. Human smugglers have proven time and again they have little regard for human life,' Gregory Bovino, the Border Patrol's El Centro sector chief said in a statement Wednesday.  

'Those who may be contemplating crossing the border illegally should pause to think of the dangers that all too often end in tragedy, tragedies our Border Patrol Agents and first responders are unfortunately very familiar with.'

Border Patrol is still working to track down the families of those who crossed the border. There were 19 people in a second car who were taken into custody after the car set on fire

Border Patrol is still working to track down the families of those who crossed the border. There were 19 people in a second car who were taken into custody after the car set on fire

Law enforcement work at the scene of the deadly crash on Tuesday

Law enforcement work at the scene of the deadly crash on Tuesday

A California Highway Patrol officer examines the scene on Tuesday

 A California Highway Patrol officer examines the scene on Tuesday

Authorities examine mangled SUV after deadly accident
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'We pray for the accident victims and their families during this difficult time,' he added. 

It was also confirmed on Wednesday that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has opened a human smuggling investigation into Tuesday's horror crash. 

In a statement, an ICE spokesperson confirmed to DailyMail.com that 'Special agents from Homeland Security Investigations San Diego responded [to the scene]... and have initiated a human smuggling investigation.' 

ICE declined to comment further at to what led the agency to believe human trafficking was suspected, adding that additional details aren't being released at this time. 

When police arrived Tuesday at the crash site about 125 miles east of San Diego, some passengers were trying to crawl out of the crumpled SUV. 

Others were wandering around the nearby fields. The big rig's front end was pushed into the SUV´s left side and two empty trailers were jackknifed behind it.


The men and women in the SUV ranged in age from 15 to 53, and those who survived had injuries that were minor to severe, including fractures and head trauma, officials said. 

The driver was from Mexicali, Mexico, just across the border, and was immediately killed in the collision.

In total, paramedics took 11 people to area hospitals, police said. At least two are still being treated for life-threatening injuries. 

Four Mexican nationals were released from hospital in El Centro on Tuesday but were not taken into custody of U.S. immigration or border officials.  

None of the names of the victims have been released as authorities work to identify them and contact their families. 

'We know that there are families in the United States, as well as in several states in Mexico. The consulate has reached out to six families of the deceased individuals,' Mario Beltran Mainero, press officer for the Mexican consulate in Calexico told USA Today

He added at least one of the six families they located is in San Diego; the remaining families are in Mexico. 

The consulate would not confirm if the ten Mexican nationals killed were part of a smuggling operation.  

Investigators were trying to determine if the victims of the crash were immigrants or farm workers. 

The site of the crash is in southeastern California, about 10 miles east of El Centro and about 11 miles north of the Mexican border. The SUV had crossed the border illegally that morning

The site of the crash is in southeastern California, about 10 miles east of El Centro and about 11 miles north of the Mexican border. The SUV had crossed the border illegally that morning

'It was a pretty chaotic scene,' California Highway Patrol Chief Omar Watson said

'It was a pretty chaotic scene,' California Highway Patrol Chief Omar Watson said

'All are suspected to have entered the U.S. illegally,' Custom Patrol said in a statement of the 25 people crammed into the SUV. 'Border Patrol is investigating the smuggling events'

'All are suspected to have entered the U.S. illegally,' Custom Patrol said in a statement of the 25 people crammed into the SUV. 'Border Patrol is investigating the smuggling events' 

The impact of the crash ejected several passengers from the vehicle (car seat pictured above)

The impact of the crash ejected several passengers from the vehicle (car seat pictured above)

Tony Hernandez told USA Today that two of his relatives from Michoacán, a 25-year-old and a 32-year-old, had died in the crash. 

'I already talked to my relatives. They are devastated,' Hernandez said, as he revealed that they had been on their way to Los Angeles.  

The crash occurred around 6:15 a.m. under a clear, sunny sky at an intersection just outside the community of Holtville, about 11 miles north of the border. 

Authorities said the tractor-trailer was heading north on a highway when the SUV pulled in front of it from a road with a stop sign.

It's not clear if the SUV ran the stop sign or had stopped before entering the highway. How fast both vehicles were going also wasn't yet known.

A 1997 Ford Expedition can carry a maximum payload of 2,000 pounds. If it had 25 people inside, that would easily exceed the payload limit, taxing the brakes and making it tougher to steer the vehicle, said Frank Borris, former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration´s Office of Defects Investigation.

'You're going to have extended stopping distances, delayed reactions to steering inputs and potential overreaction to any type of high-speed lane change,' said Borris, who now runs a safety consulting business.

The breach occurred in a busy area for illegal crossings near the Imperial Sand Dunes where migrants often climb over an aging barrier and wait for drivers to pick them up, hoping to avoid the scrutiny of Border Patrol agents at checkpoints on highways leading to Los Angeles, San Diego and Phoenix.

A pandemic-related measure that allows the Border Patrol to expel people without an opportunity to seek asylum potentially leads some to try to evade authorities instead of surrendering, sometimes with fatal consequences. 

Hugo Chavez, an activist with the Coalition for Human Immigration Rights, places crosses at the scene where the SUV carrying 25 people collided with the semi-truck

Hugo Chavez, an activist with the Coalition for Human Immigration Rights, places crosses at the scene where the SUV carrying 25 people collided with the semi-truck

An ICE spokesperson confirmed to DailyMail.com that 'Special agents from Homeland Security Investigations San Diego responded ... and have initiated a human smuggling investigation'

An ICE spokesperson confirmed to DailyMail.com that 'Special agents from Homeland Security Investigations San Diego responded ... and have initiated a human smuggling investigation'

A spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection told DC Examiner journalist Anna Giaritelli that CBP personnel were not involved in the collision and the SUV was not being chased

A spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection told DC Examiner journalist Anna Giaritelli that CBP personnel were not involved in the collision and the SUV was not being chased

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention introduced expulsion powers nearly a year ago under Trump, and the Biden administration has signaled no plans to lift them anytime soon.

The cause of Tuesday's collision wasn't yet known, authorities said. The Expedition is built to hold eight people safely, but smugglers are known to pack people into vehicles in extremely unsafe conditions to maximize their profits.

Seats in the SUV had been removed except for those for the driver and front passenger, said Omar Watson, chief of the California Highway Patrol´s border division.

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

Barely a mile from the crash, there is a cemetery with rows of unmarked bricks that is a burial ground for migrants who died crossing the border.

In 2001, John Hunter founded Water Station, a volunteer group that leaves jugs of water in giant plastic drums for dehydrated migrants.

'I was trying to figure out how to stop the deaths,' said Hunter, whose brother Duncan strongly advocated for border wall construction as a congressman.

Illegal crossings in the area fell sharply in the mid-2000s but the area has remained a draw for migrants and was a priority for wall construction under Trump. His administration's first wall project was in Calexico.

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