Three people were killed and eight others injured Thursday when a truck crashed on a California interstate near the Mexican border while fleeing U.S. Border Patrol agents in what is being investigated as possible smuggling case, authorities said.
The driver of the truck was identified Friday by California Highway Patrol as 21-year-old Luis Alberto Virgen, a U.S. citizen living in Tijuana, Mexico.
He is charged with three counts of gross vehicular manslaughter and is being held at the San Diego County Jail in lieu of $50,000 bail. Virgen is scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 4, according to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.
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The white Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck was carrying 11 people, including Virgen, when it crashed and overturned at about 4:30 p.m. PT on Interstate 8 in the town of Boulevard, about 50 miles east of San Diego and about 5 miles north of the Mexican border, said the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Friday the incident began around 4:10 p.m. when agents noticed tire tracks from multiple vehicles near the U.S.- Mexico border going north into the United States. The agency said the tire marks were "typical signs of a drive-through smuggling event."
Border patrol agents began pursuing the pickup truck after agents saw that the vehicle was missing a part that was found near the tire marks.
The California Highway Patrol said in an incident report that the truck, sometimes topping 100 mph, weaved over the center median to pass cars in its way.
A spike strip was used to stop the truck when the it failed to yield to Border Patrol, causing it to mount a steep embankment. The truck's occupants, most of whom were in the back cargo area, were thrown onto the roadway, according to California Highway Patrol.
Virgen was the only one wearing a seat belt, and the only one who was not ejected from the vehicle. He sustained minor injuries, officials said.
Among the other people injured, four were minor, Cal Fire said. Patients had to be driven the long distances to hospitals because fog, wind and rain prevented medical helicopters from flying, fire officials said.
The names of those injured and killed in the crash were not released. CHP spokesman Officer Travis Garrow said at this time, it's believed that none of the passengers are U.S. Citizens.