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Deadly pileup involves illegal immigrants

Arizona police were trying to separate out undocumented immigrants from smugglers after a crash that caused a deadly 11-car pileup.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Police were trying to separate out a group of undocumented immigrants from the smugglers who crammed them into a stolen pickup truck shortly before a crash at a busy intersection that caused a deadly 11-car pileup. Five people died and 16 others were seriously injured.

Seventeen people were in the truck Saturday when it lost control near Fort Huachuca, a southeastern Arizona Army post. Investigators think it was traveling at about 90 mph, Sierra Vista Deputy Fire Chief Randy Redmond said.

Authorities initially reported six deaths in the crash Saturday that caused an 11-car pileup, but one victim who apparently went into cardiac arrest while being transported to a hospital was resuscitated, said Sgt. Brian Preston of the state public safety department.

Investigators on Sunday were trying to identify the driver and other smugglers in the truck, said Arizona Department of Public Safety Sgt. Brian Preston. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials questioned a man they believed was driving the vehicle, but he turned out to be a passenger, Preston said.

Vehicle-related deaths of undocumented immigrants have been on the rise in Arizona, many of them involving overloaded vehicles used by immigrant smugglers trying to skirt Border Patrol checkpoints. Authorities believe the stolen pickup was headed to Phoenix, the nation's hub for transporting illegal immigrants.

Common loading point
According to Preston, Cochise County Sheriff's deputies first spotted the truck near the Huachuca Mountains, in an area commonly used for loading contraband and illegal immigrants.

They chased the vehicle, but broke off the pursuit before the accident, when the suspect drove away recklessly, sheriff's spokeswoman Carol Capas said. The truck's driver lost control after swerving at a spot where Sierra Vista police had placed tire deflation spikes to slow the truck.

"Speculation was that maybe he thought he would drive around them," Preston said.

Passengers were thrown out when the truck struck a median and then hit vehicles waiting in a turn lane, Redmond said. The four-door pickup did not have a camper shell or cover.

The crash's impact tore the roofs from some cars and trapped several motorists in their vehicles, Redmond said.

Two of the dead were in other vehicles and three were immigrants in the truck. James Lee, 74, and Emilia Lee, 71, of Huachuca City, were killed when the pickup hit their vehicle. The names of the victims killed in the pickup were not available.