McALLEN, Texas (AP) — With little more than photographs and fingerprints, authorities were trying to identify 14 suspected illegal immigrants who were killed when a pickup truck packed with nearly two dozen people crashed in South Texas in one of the nation's deadliest immigrant smuggling accidents.
The victims — men, women and children — were carrying toothbrushes, toothpaste and changes of socks and underwear but no identification. Authorities said the white Ford F250 was carrying 23 immigrants from Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala when it veered off a highway and crashed into trees Sunday night.
"It's the worst single-vehicle wreck I've worked in my 40 years in the funeral business," said Adrian Fulton, a local funeral home director who picked up the 11 people who died at the scene. Fulton estimated their ages from 8 to 30, and he said Homeland Security Investigations agents came Monday to photograph and fingerprint the dead.
Federal immigration agents are looking into the human smuggling aspect of the case, while public safety authorities are investigating the cause of the crash in Goliad County, about 150 miles northeast of the Mexican border. The crash scene is less than an hour's drive from the site of the nation's most deadly immigrant smuggling case, where 19 immigrants died in 2003 after being placed in a sweltering trailer.
Six of those who died in Sunday's crash were still inside the cab of the mangled vehicle and one was in the truck's bed when emergency crews arrived at the scene, said Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Gerald Bryant. Others were scattered on the roadway and in a ditch between the pavement and the fence line where the truck stopped.
Bryant said he saw at least two young children among the dead.
"This is the most people I've seen in any passenger vehicle, and I've been an officer for 38 years," he said.
It is not uncommon for human traffickers to try to maximize profits by over-loading vehicles with illegal immigrants as they head north from the Texas-Mexico border. In April, nine Mexican immigrants died near the border when the teenage driver of their van crashed after fleeing Border Patrol. There were 18 people in that minivan.
In that case, six adults face a variety of federal charges and the 15-year-old driver was charged in state court with nine counts of murder.