A van loaded with suspected illegal aliens swerved off a freeway off-ramp today and crashed while being chased by U.S. Border Patrol agents, killing three people and injuring 16, authorities said.
Eleven people were killed last year in a similar accident in the Imperial Valley during a chase.
Today's accident occurred shortly after 2 a.m. on a deserted stretch of Interstate 8 about four miles east of Ocotillo and a few miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, said Dale Musegates, chief patrol agent for the El Centro sector of the Border Patrol. Ocotillo is about 50 miles east of San Diego.
Earlier in the evening, two other vehicles filled with suspected illegal aliens were caught in the same area.
'Heavy Sensor Traffic'
"We had been getting some very heavy sensor traffic in that area since about midnight," Musegates said, referring to equipment used by the Border Patrol to electronically monitor traffic moving from the border.
Musegates said an agent had tried to stop a red and white van as it left the Meyer Wash area near Ocotillo.
When the van failed to yield to his flashing red lights, the agent followed at a distance and radioed for help, Musegates said.
After a second Border Patrol vehicle arrived, the van tried to force it off the road, then sped away at speeds of up to 75 m.p.h. down the center of the road so agents couldn't cut it off, Musegates said.
Veered Off Freeway
The van veered off the freeway at the Dunaway Road off-ramp, but it overshot the intersection, careened off the road and overturned several times, he said.
"The agents exercised very good judgment" in chasing the van, Musegates said. "There is just no way to keep someone from driving off the edge."
Fourteen people were admitted to El Centro Community Hospital--11 with major injuries who were listed in serious condition. One of the injured was treated and discharged to the Border Patrol, a nursing supervisor said.
Two of those with major injuries were transferred by medical helicopter to the University of California and Scripps Institute hospitals in San Diego.