PHOENIX (Reuters) - Four people in a truck packed with suspected illegal immigrants died on Wednesday in Arizona after the sport utility vehicle carrying them fled border patrol agents, veered off a road and smashed through a wall, police said.
Seven other people were injured when the Dodge Durango loaded with 11 people hurtled off a street in Casa Grande, some 45 miles south of Phoenix, at around 1 a.m. It smashed through a solid wall before coming to rest in a yard, a spokesman for Casa Grande Police Department said.
“The vehicle attempted to turn ... (It) went airborne and crashed through a cinder block wall and appeared to hit a couple of small trees and came to a rest,” police spokesman Thomas Anderson said.
“At least one occupant was ejected from the vehicle ... They could not have all been restrained because the vehicle doesn’t have that many restraints, even if they used them, so it was a pretty horrific accident scene,” he added.
Casa Grande, a city of nearly 50,000 people about 80 miles north of the Mexico border, straddles a clandestine route for smugglers ferrying illegal immigrants to the metropolitan Phoenix area.
Minutes before the smash, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Border Patrol alerted Casa Grande police that agents were following two vehicles, one a suspected “load vehicle,” in the desert a few miles south of the city.
“When they attempted to stop one of the vehicles, the second vehicle drove north toward Casa Grande ... and ultimately crashed into a yard,” Anderson said.
Three people were found dead at the scene. Six others were taken to local hospitals where one later died, Anderson said. The condition of the others was not immediately known.
The driver of the Durango was identified as a woman from the nearby town of Eloy. The other 10 occupants were suspected illegal immigrants, although their citizenship was not immediately known, he added.
Human smugglers, known as “coyotes,” frequently overload vehicles with illegal immigrants to spirit them from Mexican border areas to cities further inland, from where they move them on to destinations throughout the United States.
Accidents are common. Earlier this month, nine people died when a minivan crammed with illegal immigrants rolled over in south Texas. The driver, a 15-year-old boy, was charged with nine counts of murder.
In 2008, nine people were killed when a sports utility vehicle packed with suspected illegal immigrants rolled on a desert highway a few miles south of Phoenix.
Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh