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At Least 13 People Dead After Crowded SUV Collides With Truck In California

Updated at 7:39 p.m. ET

At least 13 people died in a vehicle crash in Imperial County, Calif., on Tuesday, when a crowded Ford Expedition SUV collided with a gravel truck. Local hospital officials initially said 15 people died from the crash, but the California Highway Patrol later lowered the figure.

A Mexican foreign ministry official announced Tuesday night that at least 10 of those killed are confirmed to be Mexican.

The terrible collision took place Tuesday morning north of the city of Holtville, according to the Imperial County Fire Department. Emergency teams responded to the collision at the intersection where Norrish Rd. crosses a larger thoroughfare, California State Route 115.

"At this point, it's unknown whether or not the Expedition stopped at the stop sign," California Highway Patrol Chief Omar Watson said, "but it did enter the intersection in front of the big rig."

"There were 25 occupants in the Ford Expedition, including the driver," Watson said. "Unfortunately, 12 of the occupants, including the driver, succumbed to their injuries on-scene."

He added that an additional person who was in the SUV later died after being taken to a hospital. The driver of the gravel truck sustained only moderate injuries, Watson said.

Some of the people who died had been ejected from the SUV by the force of the impact, Watson said. The age range of the injured people, he said, is from 15 to 55 years old. Those who died range from 20 to 55, Watson added.

The SUV did have children in it, but officials are still determining their ages, he said.

In response to questions about the SUV's passengers, Watson said investigators were working to determine their identities and also to notify the families who lost loved ones. The CHP is working with the Mexican consulate as part of that process, he said.

"It's a very sad situation," Watson said.

Images from the scene show the front of a truck wedged into the driver's door and rear passenger doors of a maroon Ford SUV on the side of the road. The truck's double cargo trailers look to have been empty at the time of the crash.

Shortly before the Highway Patrol news conference, officials from the El Centro Regional Medical Center, which received many of the people injured in the crash, said that 28 people had been in the SUV. Judy Cruz, the managing director of the hospital's emergency department, also said that 14 people had died at the scene, and one more at her hospital, for a total of 15 dead.

Cruz said 11 injured people were taken to regional hospitals, including seven to El Centro and four who were airlifted to a larger hospital straight from the scene due to the severity of their injuries. The El Centro, Calif., hospital's patients suffered injuries that range from life-threatening head injuries to fractures, emergency department physician Dr. Shavonne Borchardt said.

Imperial County is in southeastern California, sitting along the state's borders with Mexico and Arizona. The area where the crash occurred is largely rural, a grid of farms and canals south of the Salton Sea.

The crash is being investigated by the California Highway Patrol and the National Transportation Safety Board, officials said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.