At least 13 people were killed and a dozen others were taken to hospitals after a gravel truck slammed into an overloaded sport utility vehicle just north of the California-Mexico border Tuesday morning, authorities said.
The crash happened about 6:15 a.m. PT at State Route 115 and Norrish Road in Imperial County, about 15 miles from the border, the highway patrol said.
The semitruck full of gravel hit a Ford Expedition carrying 25 people including the driver, the highway patrol said.
Ten of the dead were Mexican nationals, the Mexican Consulate in Calexico, California, said in a statement citing local authorities. The nationalities of the other three have not been determined, it said.
The SUV entered an intersection in front of the big rig before it was struck, California Highway Patrol Border Division Chief Omar Watson said.
There were only two seats in the SUV — the driver’s seat and the front right seat. “Why that’s so, we don’t know,” he said, noting that without seats, there were not restraints for everyone inside. Numerous people were ejected, he said.
“Obviously, that vehicle is not meant for that many people,” he said.
Law enforcement officers at the scene of a deadly crash in Holtville, Calif., on Tuesday.Gregory Bull / AP
“Everyone in the vehicle was injured to some extent,” he said, adding that a few who had minor injuries had already been released from the hospital.
The highway patrol later clarified the number of dead after an area hospital initially said at least 15 people were killed in the crash.
The semi was headed north on Route 115, south of Norrish Road, and the Ford was traveling west on Norrish, just east of 115, officials said.
“At this point, it’s unknown whether or not the Expedition stopped at the stop sign, but it did enter the intersection in front of the big rig,” Watson told reporters earlier Tuesday. “Subsequently the big rig collided with the left side of the Ford Expedition.”
Twelve people, including the Ford driver, were pronounced dead at the scene, and another person died at a hospital, officials said.
“There’s major, intrusive damage into the SUV,” Watson said. Firefighters had to cut out the right front seat of the Ford to get people out, he said.
The occupants of the SUV were between the ages of 15 and 53, Watson clarified Tuesday afternoon.
A highway patrol news release lists the driver of the SUV who was killed as a 28-year-old resident of Mexicali, which is in Mexico on the California border south of whether the crash occurred. The Ford is listed as a 1997 vehicle. The driver of the larger truck was also injured.
Investigators at the scene of a collision between a sport utility vehicle and a tractor-trailer truck near Holtville, Calif., on Tuesday.Bing Guan / Reuters
Officials were still working with the coroner’s office Tuesday afternoon to identify those killed and notify their families, Watson said.
He said investigators were working with the Mexican consulate in case it was needed for family notifications. The area is so close to the border there is a lot of traffic between the two countries, he said.
It wasn’t immediately clear how fast the vehicles were going.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it was conducting an investigation into the crash.
Mexico’s government “expresses its profound sorrow” for the lives lost, the consulate in Calexico said. The consulate said it and other consulates would provide any assistance required.