IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

2 Border Patrol agents killed in collision with train

Two U.S. Border Patrol agents rushing to help pursue drug smugglers are killed when a freight train hits their vehicle early Thursday in southern Arizona, police say.
Kenneth Quillin
Customs and Border Patrol agent Kenneth Quillin speaks to reporters Thursday in Gila Bend, Ariz., hours after a train and Border Patrol vehicle collided in the early morning hours, killing two agents.Matt York / AP
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

Two Border Patrol agents rushing to help pursue suspected drug smugglers Thursday in southern Arizona were killed when their SUV was struck by a freight train, authorities said.

The two were identified as Edward Rojas, 35, an El Paso, Texas, native and agent since 2000, and Hector Clark, 39, a Yuma, Ariz., native and agent since 2001.

Yuma Border Patrol sector spokesman Agent Kenneth Quillin said the two agents were trying to position themselves on a road north of other agents chasing the suspects, who were on foot.

None of them have been arrested, he said.

The frontage road along Interstate 8 is closed Thursday, May 12, 2011, in Gila Bend, Ariz., hours after a train and Border Patrol vehicle collided in the early morning hours. (AP Photo/Matt York)
The frontage road along Interstate 8 is closed Thursday, May 12, 2011, in Gila Bend, Ariz., hours after a train and Border Patrol vehicle collided in the early morning hours. (AP Photo/Matt York)Matt York / AP

"We do see groups on a regular basis traveling through this area," Quillin said.

The area is known as a crossroads for human and drug smugglers, NBC station KPNX reported.

The crash happened at a railroad crossing that is marked but does not have railroad crossing arms, Quillin said.

The train's crew saw the unmarked SUV on a frontage road that runs near the tracks when the SUV suddenly turned on to a private crossing, said Aaron Hunt, a Union Pacific Railroad spokesman.

The 4,600-ton train going 62 miles per hour at the time of the collision. The crew sounded the whistle about a quarter-mile before the wreck.

When the SUV turned on to the crossing, it was immediately in front of the locomotive and the crew was helpless, Hunt told KPNX.

The 75-car freight train hit the SUV's driver's side and pushed the vehicle almost a mile down the tracks before coming to a rest. Television video from the scene showed a mangled black SUV in front of the train's engine. Tarps were placed over some of the wreckage.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio declined to speculate on what might have caused the fatal accident.

"We are all at risk in that area of enforcing the drug and illegal immigration law," he said. The sheriff's office and FBI are investigating the deaths.

The agents were assigned to the Yuma sector, which has nearly 1,000 agents, Border Patrol Agent Michael Espinoza said. They were part of a federally funded task force searching for human and drug smugglers.

"These agents were pursuing suspected drug traffickers at the time of the accident and they died doing their job to protect U.S. citizens," Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said in a statement.

Each agent is survived by a wife and two children.

"It's sad anytime you lose somebody in our organization," said George McCubbin, president of the National Border Patrol Council.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued a statement saying, "The entire DHS family expresses our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of these agents."

Thursday's deaths bring to 113 the number of Border Patrol officers killed in the line of duty, according to statistics on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website and reported by The Arizona Republic newspaper.

Clarence M. Childress, 41, was the agency's first recorded death on the job on April 13, 1919, while patrolling barbed wire fence along the Mexican border near El Paso, Texas, when a group of men crossed with contraband.

Agent Brian A. Terry, 36, was the agency's last to die in the line of duty. He was operating with a tactical unit near Nogales on Dec. 14, 2010, when his unit encountered five people, two armed with rifles. As they tried to make arrests, gunfire was exchanged and Terry was wounded. He died the next day.

Three agents lost their lives in the line of duty last year, the Republic reported.