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At least 13 killed in collision between semitruck and SUV in Southern California

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At least 13 killed in California crash
At least 13 killed in California collision between SUV and semitruck 01:53

At least 13 people were killed Tuesday morning in a highway collision involving a semitruck and a SUV in Southern California near the U.S.-Mexico border, authorities said. California Highway Patrol Chief Omar Watson said at a press conference that 25 people were in the SUV, a Ford Expedition.

"Obviously that vehicle is not meant for that many people," Watson told reporters. "It's unfortunate that that number of people were put into that vehicle."

A spokesperson for Homeland Security Investigations told CBS News, "Special Agents from Homeland Security Investigations San Diego responded to the scene of today's fatal crash in El Centro, California, and have initiated a human smuggling investigation. The investigation is ongoing and no further details are available at this time."

Officials at El Centro Regional Medical Center said earlier Tuesday that 15 people died in the collision. The reason for the discrepancy was unclear.

Watson, commander of the highway patrol's Border Division, said 12 people in the Expedition, including the driver, died at the scene of the collision. Another person died in the El Centro hospital's emergency room, hospital officials said.

Six other people were taken to El Centro for treatment, and three were transferred from El Centro to Pioneers Memorial Hospital, according to Judy Cruz, director of El Centro's emergency department. The 69-year-old driver of the semitruck sustained moderate injuries and was transported to Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, Watson said.

The hospital said it was treating four people from the collision, three of whom were in intensive care.  

California car crash collision Holtville
A maroon Ford Expedition which had been crammed with more than two dozen people is seen after it was involved in a deadly collision with a semitruck near Holtville, California, on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Bing Guan / Reuters

Numerous people were ejected from the Expedition onto the road, Watson said. Those who died were between 20 to 55 years old and the injured were between 15 and 53.

The collision happened near Holtville, California, near the U.S.-Mexico border, Battalion Chief Juan Rodelo of the Imperial County Fire Department told CBS News. Watson said the driver of the Expedition was from Mexicali, Mexico, just south of the border from the crash site, but Watson didn't know whether the rest of the people in the SUV were from Mexico or the U.S. The Expedition was not registered to the driver, according to highway patrol.

A Border Patrol source told CBS News that Customs and Border Protection had located a breach in the border wall near the crash site. Border Patrol officials are investigating to determine if the breach has any connection to Tuesday's crash. 

The semitruck was hauling two empty trailers on state Route 115 when the Expedition entered the intersection, Watson said. The truck collided with the Expedition, but Watson said it was premature to speculate on what caused the crash and said he didn't know how fast either vehicle was going.

"What we have to keep in mind is that 13 people died in this crash," Watson said. "We owe it to the families and those killed and injured as well as the public to conduct a thorough and complete investigation."

Late Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board tweeted that it would investigate the collision with the highway patrol.

An image capture from aerial footage shows a collision between a SUV and semitruck on March 2, 2021, near Holtville, California, about 10 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. CBS Los Angeles

Nicole Sganga and Mike Rogers contributed reporting.

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