Nine people killed in crash

Friday, January 3, 2003

MENLO, Iowa -- A pickup crammed with suspected illegal immigrants slammed into a tractor-trailer on Interstate 80 early Thursday, killing all nine people in the smaller truck.

The pickup crossed the median and hit the tractor-trailer around 2:30 a.m., about 30 miles west of Des Moines, the Iowa State Patrol said.

"It was a mess," said Fire Chief Ben Gilman, who was first on the scene. "Everyone in the truck was dead. They probably died on impact."

All of the victims were Hispanic men and women, said Sgt. Mike Van Berkum of the state patrol.

"We do have some idea to believe that these folks are not here legally, so it may take some time to identify them because of that," Lt. Rob Hansen, patrol spokesman, said. The truck had Colorado license plates.

Smuggling suspected

Estela Biesemeyer, an agent with the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Des Moines, said the number of people in the pickup, their ethnicity and the fact they were headed east led investigators to suspect a smuggling operation.

"Smuggling through Iowa has always been here. Interstate 80 is a major route these people take from the border," she said.

Biesemeyer said pickup trucks and vans are commonly used by smugglers, and the agency has intercepted U-Haul trucks carrying as many as 50 people. She said INS would probably contact the foreign consulates of Mexico or El Salvador to try to identify the victims.

The cause of the crash was under investigation. Berkum said the roads were not slippery and there was no indication alcohol was involved.

The driver of the tractor-trailer, William Dean Hansen, 55, was taken to a hospital. His condition was not disclosed.

The pickup was so badly damaged, troopers could not tell where the victims had been seated, Rob Hansen said. It was not immediately clear whether the bed of the truck was enclosed.

"Not many vehicles have nine seat belts in them," Hansen said.

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