At least five people died and several others were injured Sunday after an SUV packed with a dozen undocumented immigrants flipped on a South Texas highway while fleeing Border Patrol agents.
The driver of the black Chevrolet Suburban was speeding at about 100 miles per hour when he drove off the road, “caught gravel and then tried to recorrect,” causing the vehicle to roll over several times, Dimmit County Sheriff Marion Boyd told reporters as he stood in front of the mangled vehicle.
Most of the passengers were ejected from the SUV in the crash. Four people were pronounced dead at the scene and at least one person died after being transported to a hospital, Boyd said.
Authorities say they believe the driver and one passenger were U.S. citizens trying to smuggle immigrants into the country, Boyd said. The driver was not ejected in the crash, and was sitting upright in his seat when a deputy took him into custody. Officials have not released the names of the driver or any of the 13 passengers.
The Border Patrol began pursuing the SUV at about 11 a.m., when an agent spotted what he believed to be a “smuggling event” involving three vehicles on a rural highway about 125 miles southwest of San Antonio, according to a statement from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Border agents stopped two of those vehicles, making arrests from both. The driver of the third vehicle, the Chevrolet Suburban, failed to stop when approached by a border agent on Highway 190, so a sheriff’s deputy took over the chase. The SUV turned over shortly after on Highway 85, near the town of Big Wells.
The crash is under investigation by the Border Patrol, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and other federal agencies.
“Our deepest sympathies go out to the families of those who died in the crash,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in its statement.
Authorities previously encountered the driver of the SUV last week and believe he was in the area to pick up or scout unauthorized immigrants, Boyd said.
Boyd said he was not sure of the passengers’ countries of origin, but that most immigrants passing through the county come from Mexico or Central America. It is not unusual for authorities in this part of the state to encounter smugglers driving vehicles packed with immigrants, Boyd said.
“We’ve seen this many, many times in not only this county but other counties along the border,” Boyd said.
Dimmit County, located about 50 miles from the border with Mexico, sees significant traffic from Mexico, Boyd said.
“It’s really, really busy here,” Boyd said. “Every day my deputies are getting into pursuits, every single day.”
Most of these chases are related to drug or human smuggling, Boyd added. “It seems lately it’s been constant.”
Just last week, authorities in San Antonio charged a South Texas man with human smuggling after 54 immigrants were found in a semitrailer.
Boyd said smuggling endangers not only the lives of Americans but also the lives of the immigrants. He added that his office has received 911 calls from immigrants in the brush, “left behind by their foot guide.”
It isn’t the first time smuggling attempts have turned fatal in Texas. In 2015, an SUV packed with immigrants crashed during a pursuit, killing six passengers. In 2012, 15 unauthorized immigrants were killed in Goliad County, Tex., when their truck ran off a highway.
Sunday’s crash, Boyd said, is a “perfect example of why our borders need to be secure.”
“I think we need more boots on the ground, we need more patrol,” Boyd said. “I think we need a wall.”
President Trump has already taken measures to boost immigration enforcement along the border, such as ordering National Guard troops to deploy in April. The Trump administration has prompted growing anger from Democrats and immigrant advocates over its “zero-tolerance” policy of separately detaining children and parents trying to cross the border, which has led to about 2,000 children being separated from their parents in the past 45 days.
Meanwhile, border arrests this spring have jumped to their highest levels since Trump took office. U.S. border agents made more than 50,000 arrests in May for the third month in a row, The Washington Post reported, indicating the crackdown has not necessarily had the immediate effect of deterring people.
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