Federal authorities investigate possible human smuggling connection in deadly California crash

Law enforcement officers sort evidence and debris at the scene of a deadly crash in California on Tuesday

Law enforcement officers sort evidence and debris at the scene of a deadly crash in California on Tuesday

"Obviously, that vehicle is not meant for that many people", California Highway Patrol Chief Omar Watson said to ABC 6 News, pointing out that the sheer number of people inside of the auto would have made driving and maneuvering more hard. "Those who may be contemplating crossing the border illegally should pause to think of the dangers that all too often end in tragedy".

Those injured ranged in age from 16 to 55, while those dead ranged between 20 and 55 years old, Watson said.

"It would be premature of me to speculate what happened at this collision", Watson said.

While the seating arrangement inside the SUV still remains unclear, Watson confirmed that all of the seats had been removed from the car's interior, save the driver and passenger seats. The California Highway Patrol said Beltran "sustained major injuries".

Mora said investigators believe that both carloads of migrants crossed into California through a 10-foot-wide gap cut out of the border fence by smugglers in an area known for relatively frequent illegal border crossings.

Imperial County emergency crews were called out to the accident scene near Holtville before 7 a.m. PT. Holtville is a farming community about ten miles north of the border with Mexico, growing mostly alfalfa and vegetables.

Watson said it is unclear whether the SUV had stopped at an intersection but had entered the intersection "in front of the big rig".

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The Ford Expedition SUV would have a legal capacity of about eight people, according to the carmaker's website.

"At this time it is unknown if alcohol and drugs were a factor in the collision and if seat belts were worn", the report said.

"The patients are going through a little bit of a hard time as you can imagine, this was a major accident", said Dr. Adolphe Edward, CEO El Centro Regional Medical Center, during an update.

Some of the people who died had been ejected from the SUV by the force of the impact, Watson said.

The injured occupants were taken to El Centro Regional Medical Center (ECRMC), Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs and Pioneers Memorial Hospital in nearby Brawley. UC San Diego Health said it received three patients transferred from ECRMC via air ambulance. "We don't use the term undocumented in the hospitals", Dr. Adolphe Edward, chief medical officer at El Centro Regional Medical Center, said during the conference. El Centro Regional Medical Center is working with the Mexican consulate regarding further updates on patient conditions.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it will investigate the crash. Initially, Strater said, the organization thought those involved in Tuesday's crash might have been farmworkers, but evidence from the scene persuaded them otherwise.

Three of the four patients being treated at Desert Regional Medical Center are in the intensive care unit, hospital director of communications Todd Burke told CNN.

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