At least nine suspected illegal immigrants were killed and six more were injured when the van they were packed into crashed and rolled not long after a Border Patrol traffic stop in a South Texas town, police said Wednesday.
The van was demolished in the accident in Palmview around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, said police Cmdr. Lenny Sanchez.
Nonetheless, four men fled the wreck: Two were caught and two remained at large early Wednesday, Sanchez said.
The van, designed to carry a driver and up to seven passengers, had been gutted to squeeze in more passengers, he said.
Border Patrol spokesman Enrique Mendiola said the accident occurred on U.S. 83, several blocks after Border Patrol agents stopped the van and another vehicle. One person fled the vehicle during the traffic stop and then the van took off. The other vehicle was not identified.
"At this point, there is no reason to believe there was a pursuit," Mendiola said.
A 23-year-old woman who lives nearby told the McAllen Monitor that she didn't see the accident happen but that crash victims seemed to be alive in the immediate aftermath.
"The bodies were still moving. The bodies were everywhere," Diana Castillo said.
The van was carrying 19 people from Mexico and all were believed to be in the U.S. illegally, Sanchez said. Police were trying to determine if the driver was among the dead.
"It's really sad because they came over here to live a better life and then they lost their lives," Castillo said.
Three women have been treated at a hospital and released to immigration authorities, Sanchez said. Three men remain hospitalized Wednesday. Sanchez has no details on their conditions. The nine people who died were men.
Weather was not believed to be a factor, Sanchez said. Conditions were clear and dry at the time of the accident, according to the National Weather Service.
Palmview is 10 miles west of McAllen.