A van packed with nearly two dozen people crashed near an immigration checkpoint Friday, killing two passengers and injuring 19 others, authorities said.
Officials said the van went out of control and flipped over several times when the driver tried to ram a Border Patrol vehicle. One of the injured was reported in critical condition.
The Border Patrol van was rammed after it pulled alongside the other vehicle and an agent motioned for the driver to stop. As the van plunged off the highway and overturned, people went flying out.
“Bodies were laying all over - it was like a plane crash,” said Mike Vacio, one of the first firefighters on the scene about 24 miles east of San Diego.
No one in the Border Patrol vehicle was hurt, said agency spokesman Ron Henley.
The California Highway Patrol said the van’s passengers appeared to be illegal aliens, although that hadn’t been confirmed.
“At this point we’re more concerned about injuries than immigration status,” said CHP spokesman Phil Konstantin.
Both the Border Patrol vehicle and the van appeared to be traveling at the legal speed limit for the area, 70 miles an hour, officials said.
Of the 19 people hurt in Friday’s crash, one was listed in critical condition, Konstantin said. The condition of the others was not immediately available.
The accident was the second deadly crash in Riverside County in recent weeks involving vehicles crammed with people near the border. Earlier this month, eight illegal immigrants were killed and 17 injured when an overloaded pickup crashed near another immigration checkpoint in Riverside County.
The checkpoints are set up on major roads north of the Mexican border to screen traffic randomly.
In another case, Riverside County Sheriff’s deputies were videotaped beating two immigrants on April 1 after a long chase involving a van crammed with illegal immigrants.