Authorities say a Ford Expedition crammed with 25 people crossed into the US from Mexico, likely through a breach in the border fence, before it was struck by a tractor-trailer near Holtville, Calif., on Tuesday morning, killing 13 people in the SUV, the Los Angeles Times reports. Surveillance footage shows two vehicles in the area of a 10-foot breach in the border fence, US Customs and Border Protection said in a statement. One of them, a Chevrolet Suburban carrying 19 people, caught fire for reasons unknown on a nearby interstate, the AP reports. The people in the SUV escaped the fire and Border patrol agents took them into custody. The Ford Expedition reportedly continued on only to be struck by the big rig a short time later. The Border Patrol said that its agents did not attempt to stop or pursue either SUV. The California Highway Patrol is investigating that accident, and the Border Patrol has launched an investigation into human smuggling, the agency said.
"Human smugglers have proven time and again they have little regard for human life," the Border Patrol’s Gregory Bovino said. "Those who may be contemplating crossing the border illegally should pause to think of the dangers that all too often end in tragedy." In a preliminary report on the accident, authorities say the Expedition—driven by a 28-year-old from Mexico who was killed in the crash—pulled directly in front of the tractor-trailer at an intersection, per USA Today. Several people were ejected from the SUV, others were able to get out on their own, and some had to be freed from the wreckage. The rear seats of the Expedition, which is designed to hold eight people, reportedly had been removed to allow for more passengers. The area where the crash occurred has been a major route for illegal crossings for some two decades, per the AP, which notes that the accident happened at the height of harvest season in the agricultural area. (Read more human smuggling stories.)