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9 dead, 10 injured in SUV rollover

Citizen Staff and Wire Report

Staff and Wire Reports

A sport utility vehicle packed with illegal immigrant suspects rolled over Thursday on a rural highway northwest of Tucson, killing at least nine people, the Arizona Department of Public Safety reported.

Nineteen people were in the SUV that rolled about 8 a.m. on state Route 79, about 15 miles southeast of Florence, DPS spokesman Bart Graves said.

The other 10 passengers, all having sustained injuries, were flown to hospitals in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tucson.

Three of the injured, all men in their 20s and 30s, were taken to University Medical Center, said Darci Slaten, a hospital spokeswoman. She said two of the men were in critical condition. The condition for the third, in surgery with a broken leg, was not available Thursday afternoon.

Detectives from the Illegal Immigration Prevention and Apprehension Co-op Team are conducting a separate investigation of the incident, DPS reported.

The dead and injured were trapped inside and had to be extricated by rescue crews.

DPS Lt. Mike Corbin said the Chevrolet Suburban was heading north just before 8 a.m. Thursday when it ran off the road.

It crossed a dry wash, slammed into a concrete abutment on the other side and flipped over.

The roof caved in when the SUV rolled.

All but two of the victims were men. The two women both died at the scene, Corbin said.

DPS Officer Carmen Figueroa said authorities are trying to determine which of the crash victims was the driver, but they believe he survived.

The narrow highway, which runs through a scenic cactus forest to the eastern outskirts of metro Phoenix, has become a popular route for immigrant smugglers desperate to avoid the Border Patrol.

Authorities said they regularly stop vehicles loaded with people lacking U.S. legal status documents racing along state Route 79 and other northbound roadways in Arizona, though few have been as tragic as Thursday’s crash.

Nationally, 32 people have died in car crashes involving illegal immigrants during the Border Patrol’s fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Those statistics don’t include the nine who died outside of Florence.

Daniels said most “load” vehicles are not only packed with immigrants, but they typically are in terrible shape, riding on bald tires with faulty transmissions and altered suspensions. Racing through twisty stretches of rural Arizona can be particularly perilous in such vehicles, he said.

The 19 people in Thursday’s crash were crammed into a Suburban with two bucket seats in front and three in the back, Corbin said.

“It’s tough, it’s tight, but this is typical of the smuggling organizations,” Corbin said. “They’re just product to them.”

Also in the vehicle were numerous backpacks holding personal belongings.

Craig Fischer, a spokesman for Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, said the hospital received four survivors in good condition.

Judy Keane, a spokeswoman for Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix, confirmed two survivors were treated there. She could not give any information about their conditions.

DPS said at least one patient was also taken to Scottsdale Healthcare Osborne Hospital, but a spokeswoman was unable to confirm that information.

Corbin said a witness who was driving in front of the crashed SUV reported that it was approaching him at a high rate of speed when it veered off the roadway.

Tucson Citizen staff writers Sheryl Kornman and David L. Teibel and online editor Dylan Smith contributed to this Associated Press story.

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