Six people died and at least six were injured when a pickup truck that authorities suspect was being used for immigrant smuggling smashed into an 18-wheeler on a remote two-lane highway north of the Mexican border.
A Ford F-150 carrying at least 12 people pulled onto U.S. 281 from a narrow country road about 6 a.m. Thursday and hit the rig that was hauling cars, Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Lisa Block said. A stop sign was flattened at the site, but it was unclear whether it was knocked down during or after the crash.
The dead included five men and a woman, Customs and Border Protection spokesman Roy Cervantes said. Block said officials don't know where the deceased came from but that most of the injured are from Mexico.
Three of the injured were in intensive care at area hospitals, and the other three were being treated for broken bones, Block said.
Block said the truck was believed to have been stolen.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is investigating the case, and agents suspect the accident involved immigrant smuggling, spokeswoman Luisa Deason said.
The driver of the 18-wheeler was released from a hospital uninjured and was being interviewed by Border Patrol agents, Block said.
Agents located several people who fled the scene and are interviewing them, she said. Deason said ICE will seek criminal charges with the U.S. Attorney's Office if they are able to determine "the ones responsible for this terrible tragedy."
Several people also fled from a sport utility vehicle that swerved to avoid the wreck, slid off the road and became lodged in a small wire fence surrounding nearby ranchland, officials said. None of those people were believed to have been injured, DPS officials said.
The wreck took place about 10 miles (16 kilometers) north of the Border Patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias. Border Patrol officials say illegal immigrants often try to avoid border checkpoints by cutting through desolate ranchland and meeting smugglers who drive them north.
The highway reopened about 9:15 p.m. Thursday, about 15 hours after the wreck.
Falfurrias is about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the Mexican border, and about 170 miles (275 kilometers) south of San Antonio, reports the AP.