The SUV was traveling westbound when it reached a four-way stop. Both vehicles stopped, Sanchez said, but the SUV pulled out in front of the truck as both started moving. The truck struck the left side of the SUV, killing the driver and several others, Sanchez said. It was not clear where the SUV was coming from.
Deputies described a gruesome scene in which 12 people were found dead and the wounded were walking around aimlessly or trying to free themselves from the vehicle. Some of the passengers had been ejected, while others were found dead inside the mangled SUV. Authorities had initially put the death toll at 15.
El Centro Regional Medical Center chief executive Adolphe Edward said seven injured victims were brought to the facility, with one dying shortly after arriving at the hospital. He said that the victims had suffered extensive injuries and that at least two patients were transferred to a University of California at San Diego hospital for a “higher level of care than what we can provide.”
“It was a horrific crash,” he said.
Edward said in an interview that he believed the victims were undocumented immigrants who may have crossed the border recently. During a news conference later in the day, he added that, for the hospital, they were not “undocumented immigrants” but patients who needed their care. A representative for the Mexican Consulate was present during the hospital news conference.
ECRMC physicians described the injuries, ranging from lacerations to life-threatening head injuries.
Pioneers Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Karina Lopez said that the facility received three patients from the crash and that two were transferred to other hospitals for advanced care.
Sanchez said the ages of the victims ranged from 16 to 55, but he did not confirm whether they were recent border crossers or immigrants. “We don’t generally comment on immigration status,” he said.
The El Centro sector office for U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to calls for comment.
The Biden administration has been struggling to contend with a sharp increase in illegal border crossings in recent weeks. U.S. border agents have made more than 70,000 arrests and detentions in each of the past five months, and the number of teenagers and children crossing without a parent has jumped fourfold since last fall.
Biden continues to rely on a Trump-era emergency public health order to rapidly turn back most adult migrants and family groups, but the measures have resulted in sharply higher “recidivism” rates as border-crossers try again and again until they successfully evade capture. White House officials have urged migrants not to attempt a journey north, insisting the new administration needs more time to establish an orderly process for asylum seekers and others seeking protection in the United States.
Nick Miroff contributed to this report.