SAN DIEGO — Two suspected illegal immigrants died in a fiery head-on crash after the driver of a pickup fled the Border Patrol and swerved into oncoming traffic on a winding, rural road, authorities said Wednesday. Several people were seriously injured.
The Border Patrol halted its pursuit after reaching the 55 mph speed limit, said spokesman Quinn Palmer.
Agents later spotted a plume of smoke several miles away and found the pickup in flames on a two-lane road near Ocotillo, a desert hamlet about 70 miles east of San Diego, he said.
Pablo Arnaud Carreno, Mexico's consul in Calexico, said survivors told Mexican officials that a green and white vehicle -- the Border Patrol's colors -- pursued the truck until the crash Tuesday afternoon.
The 1994 Dodge Dakota carried eight suspected illegal immigrants from Mexico, two of whom died, authorities said. A man was pronounced dead at the scene and a woman died at a San Diego-area hospital.
Arnaud Carreno said the driver ignored the migrants' pleas to slow down as he raced toward San Diego.
The driver, who suffered moderate injuries, was arrested and will be charged with felony vehicular manslaughter. He was identified by the California Highway Patrol as Daniel Lopez of Mexico.
Lopez, who was not wearing a seat belt, swerved into the opposite lane on county Highway S-2 and struck a 2007 Toyota Corolla, the CHP said. The 68-year-old driver and a passenger, both from the rural community of Valley Center, suffered major injuries but were expected to survive.
The pickup overturned, ejecting several passengers, then caught fire, the CHP said. Survivors were being treated at several hospitals, including one person with life-threatening injuries.
The Border Patrol said agents used spike strips in an unsuccessful attempt to puncture the pickup's tires.
Smugglers have defied the Border Patrol on curvy, mountain roads east of San Diego by traveling at dangerous speeds and swerving into opposing traffic -- sometimes at night with their headlights off.
In December, a 26-year-old man was sentenced to 19 years in prison for leading agents on wild chases.