More than a dozen people were killed when a tractor-trailer struck an SUV believed to be carrying at least 25 passengers in southern California on Tuesday, officials said.
The crash occurred along State Route 115 in Holtville, Calif., near El Centro not far from the Mexican border, California Highway Patrol (CHP) spokesperson Jake Sanchez told The Hill.
CHP officials reported at least 13 fatalities, with 12 confirmed deaths at the scene, Sanchez said.
Seven people were taken to El Centro Regional Medical Center, including the person who died after arrival, Judy Cruz, the managing director of the emergency department at the El Centro Regional Medical Center, said. Two were taken to Pioneers Memorial Hospital in Brawley, Calif. Injuries ranged from fractures to head injuries, and the truck driver was hospitalized with moderate injuries, according to The Associated Press.
The cause of the crash is under investigation. CHP Chief Omar Watson said during a press conference that it was unclear if the SUV stopped at a stop sign before going into the path of the truck. The SUV, which legally sat eight to nine people, was hit on the left side, leading several people to be ejected.
“Obviously, that vehicle’s not meant for that many people,” Watson said, according to the AP. “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.”
El Centro Regional Medical Center CEO Adolphe Edward told The New York Times that he thought the victims were undocumented migrants.
"Patients are going through a difficult time, as you can imagine," he said during the press conference. "This was a major accident and we are taking care of them in the emergency room department."
"We don't use the term undocumented in the hospitals," he added during a later press conference. "To us, these folks who came to us are patients."
The crash occurred about 10 miles north of the Mexican border and about 10 miles east of El Centro, according to CNN.
Imperial County Deputy Fire Chief Sal told the Los Angeles Times that the department and county's Office of Emergency Services responded to the "mass fatality incident" at 6:16 a.m.
El Centro Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents also responded to the crash after the Imperial County Sheriff's Office requested help.
"CBP personnel were not involved in the accident," CBP spokesperson Macario Mora said. "The agents are on scene to provide assistance to the local law enforcement agencies as needed. California Highway Patrol has assumed responsibility over the investigation."
Updated at 4:16 p.m.