updated 8/7/2008 6:30:25 PM ET 2008-08-07T22:30:25

A sport utility vehicle packed with suspected illegal immigrants flipped over on a rural highway southeast of Phoenix, killing at least nine people Thursday, authorities said.

The SUV that crashed on State Route 79, about 80 miles southeast of Phoenix, had 19 people aboard, Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves said. The other 10 occupants were injured and were taken to hospitals.

All the dead and injured were trapped inside the crumpled white SUV and had to be extricated by rescue crews.

DPS Lt. Mike Corbin said the vehicle was heading north when it ran off the road, crossed a dry wash, slammed into a concrete abutment on the other side and flipped over. The roof caved in when the SUV rolled.

Corbin said a witness who was driving in front of the crashed SUV reported that it was approaching him at a high rate of speed when it veered off the roadway. The Border Patrol and other law-enforcement agencies said they had no knowledge of the SUV until after the crash.

All the victims were adults, and all but two were men. The women both died at the scene, Corbin said.

Conditions of all 10 of those hurt were not immediately available, but two of them were in critical condition at a Tucson hospital.

Officer Carmen Figueroa said authorities are still trying to determine which of the crash victims was the driver but they believe he survived.

Vinnie Picard, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said immigration agents were investigating suspicions that the SUV was a human smuggling vehicle.

Crashes involving vehicles overloaded with illegal immigrants are fairly common in Arizona, which borders Mexico. Corbin said the 19 people were crammed into an SUV with two bucket seats in front and three in the back.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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