An SUV packed with people and a semitruck hauling two trailers slammed into each other in a rural California county near the Mexican border early Tuesday morning, leaving at least a dozen dead and others hospitalized, officials said.
Overhead video in Imperial County shows the brutal aftermath of the crash, with the jack-knifed semitruck smashed into the left side of a Ford Expedition. Both vehicles came to a rest off the side of a rural road about 10 miles north of the US-Mexico border.
Hospital and police officials gave slightly different tallies of the injured and dead in the incident.
California Highway Patrol Border Division Chief Omar Watson said there were 25 occupants in the Expedition during the crash and that 13 died, including the driver. The Ford Expedition can safely seat up to eight people.
Watson described a gruesome scene in which some occupants were ejected from the vehicle and died, while others were found dead within the SUV.
“Obviously that vehicle is not meant for that many people,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that that number of people were put into that vehicle because there’s not enough safety restraints to safely keep those people within the vehicle.”
Police received a call about the crash at about 6:15 a.m. on Tuesday. At the time of the crash, the semitruck was traveling north on state road 115 and the Expedition was traveling west on Norrish Road. Watson said it was unknown if the Expedition stopped at the stop sign, but the SUV entered the intersection in front of the semitruck, leading to the collision.
Those injured ranged in age from 16 to 55, while those dead ranged between 20 and 55 years old, Watson said.
The injured occupants were taken to El Centro Regional Medical Center (ECRMC), Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs and Pioneers Memorial Hospital in nearby Brawley. UC San Diego Health said it received three patients transferred from ECRMC via air ambulance.
The driver of the semitruck had moderate injuries.
Authorities are working with the Mexican consulate to determine who was in the vehicle and to notify next of kin, Watson said.
Judy Cruz, the managing director of the Emergency Room Department at El Centro Regional Medical Center, earlier had said the vehicle had 28 occupants and that 15 had died.
“Patients are going through a difficult time as you can imagine,” El Centro Regional Medical Center CEO Adolphe Edward said. “This was a major accident and we are taking care of them in the emergency room department.”
Edward advised not to refer to those injured as “undocumented” and noted that a member of the Mexican consulate was present at a press conference alongside hospital officials.
Three of the four patients being treated at Desert Regional Medical Center were in the intensive care unit, hospital director of communications Todd Burke told CNN.
Correction: A previous version of this story had the incorrect number of fatalities.
This is a developing story and details, such as the number of fatalities, the number of occupants in the SUV, and the number injured may continue to change.