updated 3/27/2008 3:35:02 PM ET 2008-03-27T19:35:02

A pickup truck crammed with suspected illegal immigrants collided with an SUV near the Mexican border Thursday, killing three people and injuring at least nine others.

Police said there could have been as many as 25 people in the truck when it crashed before dawn on U.S. Highway 83, the main east-west artery along the border in the Rio Grande Valley.

"There were bodies all over the place," said Penitas interim Police Chief David Harris. Nine people were taken to hospitals, while Border Patrol spokesman Oscar Saldana said his agency had three suspected illegal immigrants in custody.

The truck's driver, believed to be injured, ran off, Harris said. Information was not immediately available on the condition of the other driver. Department of Public Safety troopers were investigating the cause of the accident.

Some of the survivors told police they had been hurried into the back of the truck and had not gone far before the accident. "I think they had paid a fee" to be smuggled across the border, Harris said.

Blood stained the grass at the scene, which happened to be in front of L&I Funeral Home. The gold pickup came to rest against a telephone pole, just feet from the funeral home's display headstones.

La Joya police spokesman Joe Cantu said the area was a major immigrant-smuggling corridor, and accidents where immigrants are tossed from the open beds of pickups are not unusual.

Lately there had been an influx of immigrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, but most of those involved in Thursday's accident are believed to be Mexican, he said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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