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2 Die in Crash of Car Fleeing Border Patrol


SAN DIEGO — Two people died and 11 were injured in a crash Tuesday when a car packed with illegal immigrants and driven by a suspected smuggler ran a red light while trying to elude the Border Patrol near the U.S.-Mexico boundary, police said.

The crash killed a woman and a boy who were among 11 suspected illegal immigrants riding in a two-door Ford Granada, four of them in the trunk, police said. The dead were not identified. Four of the injured remained hospitalized in critical condition at UC San Diego Medical Center.

The driver of the Ford, 40-year-old Bartolo Martinez Vargas of Tijuana, was trying to escape a Border Patrol sedan that had just pulled out of a side road behind him, authorities said. The Border Patrol agent suspected the heavily loaded car was involved in immigrant smuggling, but there was no pursuit before the collision, authorities said.

"The Border Patrol was following and positioning themselves to run the license plate," said Bill Robinson, a spokesman for the San Diego police. "The driver saw the Border Patrol vehicle behind him and apparently panicked."

The Ford drove the wrong way around traffic stopped at the red light and onto a four-lane highway, where it was struck by two cars going about 50 m.p.h., police said. The drivers of those two cars were among the injured.

Martinez faces charges of manslaughter and is also being investigated by the Border Patrol's anti-smuggling unit, authorities said.

The crash occurred about 7:30 a.m. in an intersection a few blocks north of the border in the Otay Mesa section of southeastern San Diego.

Although the crash took place during the second week of Operation Gatekeeper--a crackdown in which the Border Patrol has flooded the San Diego line with agents--it fits the pattern of previous cases that involved reckless driving by smugglers in overloaded vehicles.

In 1992, six people died after a Border Patrol chase in which a stolen van carrying a dozen illegal immigrants crashed in front of a high school in Temecula.

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