IMPERIAL COUNTY, Calif. — At least 13 people died Tuesday morning when an SUV carrying 25 people collided with a semi-truck hauling gravel in Southern California, according to the California Highway Patrol.
The crash, which was declared a “mass fatality incident” around 6:15 a.m. local time, happened in Holtville, a short distance from the U.S.-Mexico border, The Los Angeles Times reported.
California Highway Patrol Officer Arturo Platero told CNN that an SUV was traveling westbound on Norrish Road, near State Route 115, when it moved “in the direct path” of a semi-truck traveling on State Route 115. Chief Omar Watson of CHP’s Border Division said it was not clear whether the SUV, identified as a Ford Expedition, stopped at the stop sign at the intersection before the semi-truck struck the left side of the Expedition.
At the time of the crash, one person was in the semi-truck while 25 people were in the Expedition, Watson said.
“Obviously, that vehicle was not meant for that many people,” the chief said. “There are numerous people that were ejected into the roadway as a result of this collision, so part of our message is to make sure that we get out to our community and make sure that safety restraints are part of the picture to save lives.”
Twelve people were declared dead at the scene, Watson said, and another died after being transported to a hospital. Authorities declined to identify any of the victims, though Watson said those who died were between 20 and 55 years old and those who were injured were between 16 and 55 years old.
“We are working with the Mexican consulate to make sure we know who was in the vehicle and make sure we notify next of kin,” Watson said Tuesday. He said authorities have identified the driver of the SUV, though he declined to release the driver’s name in the immediate aftermath of the wreck.
Judy Cruz, emergency department director for the El Centro Regional Medical Center, said four people were flown to Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs after the crash. Three people were taken from the scene to Pioneers Memorial Hospital in Brawley, while seven others were taken to ECRMC, she said.
One of the victims transported to ECRMC died in the hospital’s emergency room, Cruz said. The semi-truck driver suffered moderate injuries, but survived the crash, Watson said.
“The patients are, of course, going through a little bit of a difficult time, as you can imagine,” ECRMC CEO Adolphe Edward said at a news conference Tuesday morning. “This was a major accident and we are taking care of them in the emergency room department.”
Authorities continue to investigate.