SAN DIEGO (AP) — An SUV fleeing from U.S. Border Patrol agents smashed through a guardrail and hurtled into a ravine off a San Diego freeway, killing three of the vehicle's occupants and seriously injuring a fourth, authorities said Friday.
The chase started after two agents on routine patrol ran the license plate of the GMC Envoy and were alerted that the vehicle was associated with a possibly armed man suspected of murder and human smuggling, the agency said in a statement.
When agents signaled to the SUV to pull over Thursday afternoon on busy Interstate 15, the driver took off.
The speeding driver swerved to exit the freeway when the SUV smashed through a guardrail before rolling down an embankment, ejecting the vehicle's occupants, the California Highway Patrol said.
Two people died at the scene, and a third person died at a hospital. A fourth occupant was seriously injured.
The deceased included a 28-year-old man from San Diego and a woman and man believed to be in their 20s, but authorities are still working on identifying them, California Highway Patrol Officer Jake Sanchez said. A 22-year-old man from San Juan Bautista, Mexico, remained hospitalized.
Border Patrol officials have not said whether the murder suspect was in the SUV at the time nor would they elaborate on the suspect's identity or offenses.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials in San Diego said they did not have information Friday beyond the statement giving the basic facts. They referred calls to the California Highway Patrol.
Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Mark Endicott told The San Diego Union-Tribune that agents are "highly skilled and highly trained and develop a reasonable amount of suspicion before attempting a vehicle stop."
Border Patrol policy states agents can only chase vehicles when the benefit outweighs any immediate danger of such pursuits, according to the newspaper.
The policy was overhauled in the 1990s after a Border Patrol chase in California's Riverside County ended in a deadly crash near a high school. Four students and a father who was driving his son to school were killed.