McALLEN, Texas (AP) — A pickup truck overloaded with illegal immigrants veered off a highway and crashed into trees in rural South Texas, killing at least 14 people and leaving 9 injured, authorities said.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations agents were looking into the human smuggling aspect of the case. A Texas Department of Public Safety accident reconstruction team meanwhile investigated the cause of the Sunday evening crash in Goliad County, about 150 miles northeast of the border with Mexico.
ICE spokesman Greg Palmore said that among the 11 men and three females who died were citizens of Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.
Gerald Bryant, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at least 23 passengers were crammed inside the truck's cab and bed, including at least two young children whom he saw among the dead.
"This is the most people I've seen in any passenger vehicle, and I've been an officer for 38 years," Bryant said.
The driver was among the 11 found dead at the scene, Bryant said, adding that investigators were trying to confirm his name. Six of those who died in the crash were still inside the mangled vehicle when emergency crews arrived at the scene, Bryant said.
The white 2000 Ford F-250 pickup was heading north on U.S. 59 when it drove off the right side of the highway near the unincorporated community of Berclair and struck two large trees, Bryant said. Berclair is about 90 miles southeast of San Antonio.
The truck was registered in Houston to someone other than the driver, Bryant said.
A DPS accident reconstruction team was investigating the accident, but Bryant said it could be another week or two before it is concluded. U.S. ICE agents were working to confirm the identities of the victims and investigate the possibility that they had been smuggled into the United States.
It is not uncommon for human traffickers to try to maximize profits by over-loading vehicles with illegal immigrants as they move their loads north from the Texas-Mexico border. In April, nine Mexican immigrants died near the border when the teenage driver of their van crashed after fleeing Border Patrol. There were 18 people in that minivan.
Bryant told The Associated Press that several of the survivors had life-threatening injuries. He did not have their official conditions but described them as "very serious." The injured were taken to hospitals in San Antonio, Victoria and Corpus Christi.
A Goliad County sheriff's spokesman did not immediately return a message left by the AP.