By JACQUES BILLEAUD, PHOENIX, (AP): Nine people, including seven immigrants who were in the U.S. illegally, were killed in a head-on collision on an Arizona highway, authorities said Thursday.
The crash occurred late Wednesday in a rural part of the state more than 120 miles north of the Mexico border.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety declined to say whether an SUV involved in the collision was being used as part of a smuggling operation or may have been connected to a government immigration facility in nearby Florence.
However, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said the immigrants killed were not detainees.
Officials say the SUV’s driver and front-seat passenger were U.S. citizens, but seven others in the vehicle were immigrants in the country illegally.
The driver, front-seat passenger and five others in the SUV were killed. Two others were taken to hospitals.
The driver and front-seat passenger in the other vehicle also were killed.
Investigators don’t know the cause of the crash on State Route 79.
Arizona has been the scene of a number of fatal crashes involving immigrants who were being smuggled, including one near the border nearly a decade ago in which 10 people died after an SUV rolled over on a highway.
Some crashes occurred on remote routes being used by smugglers after the government ramped up personnel and surveillance technology at the border.
Smugglers sometimes lost control of vehicles while fleeing Border Patrol agents.
In Texas, five people were killed in June when an SUV carrying a dozen immigrants flipped while fleeing agents.