Nine suspected illegal immigrants killed in Texas crash

PALMVIEW, Texas Wed Apr 11, 2012 2:29pm EDT

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PALMVIEW, Texas (Reuters) - Nine people, all believed to be illegal immigrants, were killed in a late-night accident in southern Texas, authorities said on Wednesday.

The crowded van was carrying 19 people when it rolled over on Tuesday night on U.S. Highway 83, which runs parallel to the Rio Grande River that forms the U.S.-Mexican border, said Lenny Sanchez, a police commander in Palmview, Texas.

Sanchez said in addition to the nine people killed in the crash, six were injured. Four people fled the crash and two of them were later caught. He said all of the dead were believed to be in the United States illegally.

Sanchez said the cause of the crash was not yet known.

He said it did not appear the van was being pursued and the wreck may have been caused by overcrowding in the van, which was designed for seven passengers.

"We see this very frequently, of course," he said. "We often see vehicles filled with people and the driver takes off running or refuses to stop for police officers."

Coyotes, as human smugglers are known, often overload vehicles with illegal immigrants to spirit them from border areas to inland cities where they move on to destinations throughout the United States. Frequently driven at high speed to outrun law enforcement, the vehicles are top heavy and roll easily.

The accident, which occurred about 240 miles south of San Antonio, was the second of its kind involving suspected illegal immigrants in as many days. Seven miles west of the Tuesday rollover, another person was killed and 17 were hospitalized when a van carrying immigrants rolled over Monday in La Joya, Texas.

The U.S. Border Patrol is helping investigate the Tuesday accident, Sanchez said.

On Wednesday morning, bodies remained scattered along the expressway frontage road amid the wrecked van and its contents as crews assessed the aftermath. Authorities had covered the victims with sheets, but empty water jugs and backpacks littered the site.

Dianna Castillo, 23, stood in front of her home near the wreck. She said she did not see the rollover but "the bodies were still moving" after she stepped outside to see what happened.

"The bodies were everywhere," Castillo said. "I wanted to cry because it's really sad because they came over here to live a better life and then they lost their lives."

(Editing by Paul Thomasch, Corrie MacLaggan and Bill Trott)

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