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Truck Pursuit Ends in Deaths

Pickup with suspected illegal immigrants overturns after hitting CHP spike strip.

March 10, 2003|Anna Gorman and David Haldane | Times Staff Writers

Two men were killed and 20 people were injured Sunday when a pickup truck carrying suspected illegal immigrants overturned in a high-speed police chase after running over a spike strip laid down by the California Highway Patrol.

The truck turned over several times after crossing the second of two spike strips and hitting the center divider on Interstate 8 about five miles east of El Cajon, authorities said. Border Patrol agents began chasing the truck in El Centro after learning that it had been stolen. CHP officers soon joined the 80- to 90-mph chase, which ended about 6 p.m. near Lake Jeremy Park Road.

"The driver had no regard for anyone's safety," said Officer Mark Gregg, a spokesman for the CHP. "It's apparent that the driver did not want to stop. The end result is that we have two dead and 20 injured."

It was the second time in two months that suspected illegal immigrants were killed in an accident involving spike strips in the same vicinity on Interstate 8. Two women were killed and 13 people injured on Jan. 9 when a pickup overturned after running over a spike strip laid down by Border Patrol agents. That accident happened at the end of a protracted chase in which the driver of the truck nearly hit U.S. agents while speeding around the spike strips.

One spike finally punctured one of the truck's tires, but the driver continued at 80 mph until he swerved into a guardrail, sending occupants tumbling down an embankment.

The driver of the truck in that crash, which is being investigated by the FBI, was later charged with two counts of murder, two counts of assault with a deadly weapon and one count each of child endangerment and witness intimidation. The FBI is to turn over its findings to the U.S. attorney's office.

The identities of the men killed Sunday were not immediately available. Few other details were available and officials said a news conference would be held today. They said the camper shell on the green pickup was thrown 60 feet from the crash, ejecting several of the occupants.

The injured were taken to seven hospitals.

Critics have said such pursuits by officers should be curbed as unnecessarily dangerous. The Border Patrol is already investigating whether the first chase was proper.

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