ELK CITY — Riders in a minivan that crashed during the recent ice storm — a wreck that killed seven people — were illegal immigrants from Mexico being taken to North Carolina, an immigration official confirmed Tuesday.
"This was a smuggling operation,” said Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's regional office in Dallas. "Right now, we're in the process of determining whether or not this was part of a bigger smuggling ring.”
Six passengers and the driver were killed about 3:50 a.m. Sunday after the van slid across the median and spun into an oncoming tractor-trailer going west on Interstate 40 near Elk City. All seven victims were thrown from the vehicle.
Driver Miguel Marquez-Vargas, 32, and Francisco Marquez-Vargas, 19, of Acaxochitlan, Mexico, were among those found dead at the scene. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol is withholding the names of the five other victims until next of kin can be notified — a process that "could take weeks,” patrol Lt. Pete Norwood said.
Eleven of the van's 12 occupants have been identified, Rusnok said.
Truck driver Donald Ray Reeves, 54, of Midwest City was unharmed.
Agents later learned the occupants of the van were headed for Durham, N.