An SUV crammed with 25 people pulled in front of an oncoming semi-truck hauling two trailers containing gravel on a two-lane highway near the U.S.-Mexico border in Imperial County, California early Tuesday, killing 13 of them and injuring the others. Most of the dead were Mexican nationals.
The semi smashed into the left side of the 1997 Ford Expedition SUV before both vehicles came to a screeching halt about 10 miles north of the border. Some of the occupants were ejected from the vehicle and died, while others were found dead within the SUV.
There are conflicting reports about the number of injured and dead in the crash. However, California Highway Patrol Border Division Chief Omar Watson confirmed in a morning briefing that there were 25 occupants in the Expedition during the crash and that 13 died, including the SUV driver, who hailed from Mexicali, Mexico. The driver of the semitruck suffered moderate injuries in the collision.
How Many People Can a Ford Expedition Accommodate?
The 1997 Ford Expedition model is designed to accommodate up to eight passengers and features two back rows of seating, with all eight occupants having access to seatbelts.
However, according to Watson, the vehicle involved in the crash did not have rear seats and was carrying more than two dozen people between 16 and 55 years of age. At least 10 of the dead were Mexican nationals, according to Roberto Velasco Álvarez, who heads the North America Department for the Mexican Foreign Ministry.
The vehicle can carry a maximum payload of 2,000 pounds but 25 passengers would easily exceed the payload limit, which affects the vehicle's braking and also makes it more difficult to steer.
A 1997 Ford Expedition can carry a maximum payload of 2,000 pounds. If it had 25 people inside, that would easily exceed the payload limit, which taxes the brakes and makes it tougher to steer, said Frank Borris, former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Office of Defects Investigation.
Smuggling of Illegal Immigrants?
While authorities continued their investigation to determine why the SUV was carrying so many passengers, social media users were convinced that the SUV was being used to smuggle illegal immigrants.
"Ford Expedition. Eight seats, eight seat belts, normally. This wasn't normal except in the human smuggling business," said one user, while another user commented, "This tragedy was a direct result of lax immigration laws encouraging illegal border crossings. The SUV carrying 27 passengers was driving just 10 miles from the Mexico border. Praying for those who were involved in the accident."
"25 human beings packed inside a Ford Expedition," opined a third user. "It's far past time to explore why such desperation is vilified and search for solutions for this humanitarian crisis."
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has also confirmed to Fox 11 Los Angeles that the agency has initiated a human smuggling investigation in connection with the fatal crash.