A California Highway Patrol cruiser. Photo by John Schreiber.
A California Highway Patrol cruiser. MNLA.com photo by John Schreiber.

Four patients were being treated Tuesday at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs after a horrific vehicle crash in Imperial County that killed at least 13 people and injured several others.

A tractor-trailer struck an SUV carrying an estimated 25 people at about 6:15 a.m. on Highway 115, just north of Holtville, about 15 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the California Highway Patrol.

CHP Chief Omar Watson said 13 people died due to injuries suffered in the crash — 12 on scene and another shortly after at an area hospital.

“Some people were ejected onto the pavement, onto the ground, who passed away as a result of those injuries. Other people were found deceased within the vehicle, and some of the wounded were able to pull themselves out of the vehicle,” Watson said during a news conference.

Prior to the crash, the group’s Ford Expedition pulled onto Highway 115 from an adjacent street and into the path of the big rig under circumstances that remain under investigation, the chief said. The tractor- trailer was driven by a 69-year-old man who suffered injuries described as moderate.

The youngest occupant was 16 years old, while the oldest ones were in their 50s, in a group that included both men and woman, Watson said. The ages of those who were injured or killed spanned from their early 20s to their 50s, he said.

Watson said specifics regarding the seating configuration of the group were still under investigation. Authorities have not commented on where the group’s Ford Expedition departed from, or where it was headed to.

Despite previous reports indicating the semi was hauling gravel, Watson confirmed the rig was towing two empty trailers.

Judy Cruz, the emergency department director for El Centro Regional Medical Center, initially said 27 people were riding in the SUV when it crashed and that 15 people had died, including 14 at the scene and one at the hospital. During a late morning news briefing at the hospital, she raised that number to 28 total occupants.

She said six patients were being treated at the hospital, and another three were hospitalized at a separate area treatment center.

Four patients were also airlifted to Desert Regional, three of whom were in the intensive care unit, according to Todd Burke, the hospital’s public information officer.

The affected stretch of Highway 115 would remain closed for “quite a few hours” while crews continue to work the scene, the chief said.

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