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Two immigrants killed near Mexico border after chase

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

SAN DIEGO -- California Highway Patrol officers did not know a stolen pickup truck was loaded with more than 20 suspected illegal immigrants when they decided to stop it with spike strips, the department said Monday.

Two people were killed and 20 injured Sunday when the driver swerved around a spike strip, slammed into the center divide and rolled the pickup onto its side, tossing passengers onto the pavement.

"We did not know it had that many people inside of it," said CHP Officer Brian Pennings.

Authorities were trying to determine whether the victims were illegal immigrants, but their nationalities were not immediately confirmed.

The crash on Interstate 8 in El Cajon, east of San Diego, prompted immigrants-rights groups to renew calls for the Border Patrol and CHP to stop high-speed pursuit of vehicles that could be overloaded with people.

"Lessons never seem to be learned," said Claudia Smith of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation. "This is a replay, virtually, of the previous deadly crashes."

On Jan. 9, a truck packed with 17 people was being pursued by the Border Patrol when it crashed into a bridge abutment. Two women died at the scene and a third died from her injuries a week later.

In October, another chase east of San Diego ended in a crash that killed two men and injured 19 other people. Last June, six people were killed when a van carrying 27 immigrants drove the wrong way on Interstate 8 to avoid an immigration checkpoint and collided with oncoming cars.


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