El CENTRO, Calif. — A semitruck on Tuesday crashed into an SUV believed to be carrying 27 people on a Southern California highway, killing 15 people and leaving others injured, hospital officials said.
Judy Cruz, director of El Centro Regional Medical Center’s emergency department, said 14 people died at the scene, which is about 11 miles (18 kilometers) north of the U.S.-Mexico border, and another died after arriving at the hospital.
Hospital officials believe 27 people were in an SUV that collided with a tractor-trailer full of gravel on a highway in the agricultural southeastern corner of California, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of San Diego.
California Highway Patrol Officer Jake Sanchez, who was on his way to the crash site, said the SUV was a Ford Expedition that would typically seat eight to nine people legally.
He said the SUV had stopped at an intersection and then drove “directly in the path of the big rig” around 6:15 a.m. The semitruck struck the left side of the SUV, which appeared to have been pushed off the road.
Multiple patients were sent to hospitals for their injuries, including four flown to Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, spokesman Todd Burke said. Three were in intensive care, he said. The truck driver received minor injuries.
Macario Mora, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection in Yuma and El Centro, said the Border Patrol was helping other law enforcement with the crash. He said the immigration status of those in the SUV was unknown and being investigated.
“It was an unusual number of people in an SUV, but we don’t know who they were,” Mora said, adding that they could have been farmworkers.
A harvest is underway in the region of most of the winter lettuce and other leafy greens eaten in the United States.
Officials from the Holtville and Imperial County fire departments, as well as the California Highway Patrol spokesperson for the area, could not immediately be reached.