(KGTV) -- Customs and Border Protection officials said an SUV involved in a deadly crash in Imperial County on Tuesday had entered the U.S. via a breach at the U.S.-Mexico border just before the wreck.
According to CBP officials, Border Patrol agents with the El Centro Sector were notified of a red Chevrolet Suburban that was on fire near Interstate 8 and state Route 115 at around 5:56 a.m. on March 2.
Less than 10 minutes later, agents discovered “a 10-foot breach in the International Boundary Fence between Mexico and the United States near the Gordon’s Well exit/Schneider’s Bride area just off Interstate 8 approximately 30 miles east of the Highway 115/I-8 interchange.”
Agents that responded to the Suburban fire “encountered 19 individuals hiding in the brush nearby and determined they had entered the country illegally through the breach in the border fence.”
Surveillance footage reviewed by agents showed two vehicles entering through the breach, according to officials.
At around 7:05 a.m., Border Patrol agents were called to a collision on SR-115 and Norrish Road, near Holtville, involving a Ford SUV and a truck hauling gravel.
Officials said 12 of the 25 people in the SUV died at the scene, with another victim passing away at the hospital. The impact caused several of the SUV's occupants to be ejected onto the roadway.
Six patients were transferred to San Diego-area hospitals for treatment -- four were airlifted to UC San Diego Medical Center and two were taken to Scripps Memorial Hospital.
The truck's 69-year-old driver was not seriously injured.
The California Highway Patrol, the agency investigating the fatal collision, said seats inside the 1997 Ford Expedition were removed to allow for more occupants.
CBP officials suspect the SUV’s occupants “entered the U.S. illegally.” Officials added the Border Patrol is investigating the suspected smuggling events.
In a statement Wednesday, El Centro Sector Chief Patrol Agent Gregory Bovino said, “We pray for the accident victims and their families during this difficult time. Initial investigation into the origins of the vehicles indicate a potential nexus to the aforementioned breach in the border wall. Human smugglers have proven time and again they have little regard for human life. Those who may be contemplating crossing the border illegally should pause to think of the dangers that all too often end in tragedy; tragedies our Border Patrol Agents and first responders are unfortunately very familiar with.”