Border patrol officials said Wednesday they believe the SUV involved in a deadly crash in Southern California on Tuesday that resulted in 13 fatalities was part of a migrant smuggling operation and entered the U.S. illegally by driving in through a hole cut into California’s border fence with Mexico, according to a report by the Associated Press Wednesday.

Key Facts

The chief of Border Patrol’s El Centro sector, Gregory Bovino, told the AP that the agency has surveillance video of a Ford Expedition and Chevrolet Suburban driving through the opening early Tuesday.

At around 6:15 a.m. the Expedition collided with a tractor-trailer on State Route 115, roughly 12 miles from the border.

Omar Watson, the chief of the CHP’s border division, said that investigators did not know how fast either vehicle was traveling or what led to the collision. 

According to the AP report, the area of the fence where the opening was carved out had been constructed before former President Donald Trump began installing higher barriers that penetrate deeper into the soil, making them more difficult to manipulate.

Forbes has reached out to the U.S. Border Patrol for comment but did not immediately hear back.

Key Background:

The Expedition is built to hold eight people safely, but there were 25 people crammed inside the SUV, California Highway Patrol’s border division has previously confirmed. All the seats, other than the driver and front passenger, had been removed. When emergency crews arrived at the crash site, they found 12 people already dead. One additional person died at a local hospital, and six other people were taken to a hospital with injuries. Omar Watson, the chief of the CHP’s border division, said that the dead ranged in ages from 20 to 55. Among the injured passengers, the youngest was 16, and the oldest was 65. The other vehicle that drove through the fence opening, the Chevy Suburban, was carrying 19 people. It caught fire shortly after crossing the border. All passengers escaped the vehicle fire without injury and were later taken into custody by Border Patrol agents.

Crucial Quote: 

“Human smugglers have proven time and again they have little regard for human life,” Bovino told the AP. “Those who may be contemplating crossing the border illegally should pause to think of the dangers that all too often end in tragedy, tragedies our Border Patrol Agents and first responders are unfortunately very familiar with.”

What To Watch For:

A spokeswoman for Homeland Security Investigations based in San Diego, a unit of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Wednesday that the agency had initiated a human smuggling investigation, but declined to provide further details.

Further Reading:

AP Exclusive: SUV in crash came through hole in border fence (AP) 

What We Know About the Deadly Crash in California (NYT)

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