Three people died and eight others were injured over the weekend after their vehicle fled from the Border Patrol on a lengthy chase across southern Arizona and agents deployed a Grappler System on the interstate to try to immobilize the vehicle and end the pursuit.
The fleeing Jeep Liberty careened across the interstate into oncoming traffic, crashed into a tractor-trailer and bounced back into the median, where it caught fire.
All 11 people in the vehicle were either dead or required hospitalization. A Liberty’s seating capacity is supposed to be five.
The deaths add to a growing string of fatalities in the border surge that began under President Biden — but most of the others have involved drowning, exposure or car crashes that didn’t involve agents.
Saturday night’s deaths came during an escape and chase, and presented the latest test of Customs and Border Protection’s use of tire deflation or immobilization devices to try to prevent or stop fleeing vehicles.
Agents first spotted the Jeep after it avoided a Border Patrol highway checkpoint near Three Points, southwest of Tucson. A CBP helicopter kept an eye on the vehicle, updating agents on the ground as the Jeep sped into Tucson, barreling through red lights, before getting on Interstate 19, then Interstate 10.
Forty miles north of Tucson, and about 50 minutes after the chase began, agents tried to stop the Jeep with a Vehicle Immobilization Device known as the Grappler System. According to court documents, the Jeep “slipped from the grasp” of the Grappler and the vehicle careened out of control.
High-speed chases in the remote areas of the border are becoming common as smugglers increasingly resist capture — and that means more instances where agents contemplate using spike strips.
Under CBP policy, an agent must deem the use of an immobilization device or offensive driving tactics “objectively reasonable and necessary” in order to fulfill their duties. Agents don’t need prior approval, but they are supposed to declare their intention before using it to give a supervisor a chance to call them off.
“VIDs and ODT may be used in situations where the law enforcement benefit and the need to immobilize the subject vehicle and/or otherwise end a vehicle pursuit outweighs the immediate or foreseeable risk of injury to involved subjects and others created by the deployment of a VID or use of an ODT,” the policy says.
The Border Patrol uses several times of devices, including the Grappler, which deploys from a law enforcement vehicle and tries to snare a target vehicle’s tires, and spike strips, which deflate tires.
Agents will sometimes use spike strips at Border Patrol checkpoints if they believe a vehicle is likely to try to speed away.
During one April incident in Texas, agents spiked a car at a checkpoint after a dog alerted them to something suspicious. Agents popped the trunk and spotted illegal immigrants but the driver took off, shredded both back tires, but managed to speed more than 15 miles at more than 100 miles an hour.
Eventually, the tires disintegrated and the rims collapsed, forcing the vehicle to halt. Agents managed to rescue the illegal immigrants from the trunk, including one eight-year-old boy being smuggled along with his mother.
And in one incident in Southern California in February, agents spiked a Cadillac CTS, deflating at least one tire, but the vehicle barreled ahead, smashing through a school crossing sign, careening into the oncoming lanes of traffic and finally losing control and slamming into a car headed in the opposite direction.
NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the type of technology used to stop the vehicle was a Grappler System.