By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Nine people, all believed to be illegal immigrants from Mexico, were killed in a late-night accident in southern Texas, authorities said on Wednesday.
The crowded van was carrying 19 people when it rolled over Tuesday night on U.S. Highway 83, which runs parallel to the Rio Grande River that forms the U.S.-Mexican border, said Lenny Sanchez, a police commander in Palmview, Texas.
Sanchez said along with the nine people killed in the crash, six others were injured and four fled. Two were later caught. He said all of the dead were believed to be in the United States illegally.
Sanchez said the cause of the crash was not yet known.
He said it did not appear the van was being pursued, and the wreck may have been caused by simple overcrowding, in the van that was designed for seven passengers.
"We see this very frequently, of course," he said. "We often see vehicles filled with people and the driver takes off running or refuses to stop for police officers."
Coyotes, as human smugglers are known, often overload vehicles with illegal immigrants to spirit them from border areas to inland cities where they move on to destinations throughout the United States. Frequently driven at high speed to outrun law enforcement, the vehicles are top heavy and roll easily.
In Arizona, nine people were killed and nine injured in 2008 when a sports utility vehicle packed with suspected illegal immigrants rolled on a desert highway south of Phoenix. Two years earlier, 10 were killed when a crowded SUV rolled on a desert road near Yuma in far western Arizona.
The U.S. Border Patrol is helping investigate, he said.
(Additional reporting by Jared Taylor in McAllen, Texas; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Doina Chiacu)