FLORENCE, Ariz. – A sport utility vehicle packed with suspected illegal immigrants rolled over Thursday on a rural highway southwest of Phoenix, killing at least nine people, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
Nineteen people were in the SUV that rolled on State Route 79, about 15 miles southeast of Florence, said Bart Graves, a DPS spokesman. The other 10 occupants were injured and were flown to hospitals in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tucson.
The dead and injured were all trapped inside the crumpled white SUV 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, crossed a dry wash and slammed into a concrete abutment on the other side and flipped over. The roof caved in when the SUV rolled.
All the victims were adults, and all but two were men. The women both died at the scene, Corbin said.
Officer Carmen Figueroa said authorities are still trying to determine which of the crash victims was the driver but they believe he survived.
"We have officers at the hospitals right now trying to find that out from the occupants in the vehicle," Figueroa said.
The roadway, which runs between Tucson and Phoenix, reopened at about noon after being closed for several hours.
Accidents involving vehicles overloaded with migrants are fairly common in Arizona, and frequently lead to multiple fatalities. Corbin said the roadway where Thursday's crash happened has recently seen greater migrant traffic as human smugglers try to avoid Interstate 10.
The 19 people 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 and they were in good condition.
Judy Keane, a spokeswoman for Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix, confirmed two survivors were treated there but could not give any information about their condition.
DPS said at least one patient was also taken to Scottsdale Healthcare Osborne Hospital. A spokeswoman said she could not confirm that information.
Darci Slaten, a spokeswoman at University Medical Center in Tucson, said the hospital received three patients, all Hispanic males in their 20s or 30s. Two of the men were listed in critical condition. A third underwent surgery for a leg fracture.
Vinnie Picard, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said immigration agents were investigating the suspicions that the SUV was a human smuggling vehicle.
The suspicion was based on the large number of people crammed into the vehicle and because the highway where the accident occurred is a route used by immigrant smugglers. Still, it's not yet known whether illegal immigrants were in the vehicle, Picard said.
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.