- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

SAN DIEGO, Jan. 10 (UPI) — A chase in Southern California that resulted in the deaths of two undocumented aliens and sent 15 others to the hospital Thursday night was justified, according to the Border Patrol, because the driver allegedly twice tried to run over some of its agents.

Two women were killed when the 22-mile chase ended with the pickup truck carrying 17 people slamming into a bridge support on Interstate 8 in eastern San Diego County. The women were among four victims who were ejected from the vehicle and hurled over a 40-foot embankment to the pavement of another highway below.

Seven victims were reported in critical condition Friday at area hospitals.

The tragic pursuit began when agents tried to stop the pickup near the Tecate, Mexico, border crossing and the driver allegedly tried to run one of the agents down. Border Patrol policy allows agents to chase vehicles if they determine it to be a threat to the safety of the agents or the public.

"If the danger posed to the community is great, then we do anything to stop the vehicle," Border Patrol spokesman Raleigh Leonard told The San Diego Union-Tribune. "It appears at this time that (the driver) tried to take the life of one of our agents, and that, I would determine, is a threat."

Accidents involving alien smugglers can sometimes end tragically when often-overloaded vehicles go out of control on the winding roads along the Southern California border. In June, a van that was not being pursued nevertheless crashed on another stretch of Interstate-8 in eastern San Diego County, killing six immigrants.

Leonard said Thursday night's accident occurred after the Ford pickup ran over a spike strip and apparently lost control. The chase had at times reached speeds of 80 miles per hour as the immigrants who were hiding under a tarp in the back held on for life.

Agents tried twice before to puncture the tires of the truck without success, during which time the driver allegedly tried to run over the agents who had set up the spike strips.

Authorities had not filed any charges in the case early Friday, though the driver of the pickup could face vehicular manslaughter and immigrant smuggling charges.

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