A Car Crash in the California Desert: How 13 Died Riding in One S.U.V.
On March 2, 2021 a maroon Ford Expedition collided on State Route 115 with a tractor-trailer near Holtville, California killing 13 undocumented immigrants including the driver. The vehicle had 25 people packed inside exceeding the payload limit. Before the crash the vehicle drove through the border fence that had been breached near the Gordon's Well exit just off Interstate 8 approximately 30 miles east of Highway 115.
José Eduardo Martinez, 16 years old rode near the front of the Ford Expedition and was hoping to join his uncle in Utah to work construction. Jairo de Jesus Dueñas, 28 years old, planned to earn money so that he could purchase a car to drive for Uber in Mexico. Zeferina Mendoza, 33, and her cousin, Rosalia Garcia Gonzalez, 34, were crammed in the back, where the seats had been removed, had leads on jobs in California’s strawberry fields.
Martinez could not remember the accident. After two days he had regained consciousness with 10 inches of surgical staples stretched down his stomach and several more around his waist. Martinez who is the oldest of two brothers, from the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, living in a one-room dry-mud hut. He didn't have a computer to follow his classes during the pandemic so he used a cell-phone. Martinez would hear stories growing up about his uncle in America and how he sent money regularly to his children. Martinez wanted to try his luck in hopes of being able to send money to his family.
Duenas had been living in Mexicali. He was a father of three and had worked at a maquiladora and a bakery. However, during the pandemic there had been less work and he became desperate. He thought working for a ride share company would be lucrative and thought the fastest way to purchase a car would be to work in the United States.
A Border Patrol agent drags tires behind his vehicle to smooth out the ground in front of the border wall, making it easier to recognize new footprints from migrants coming into the United States illegally in front of the section of the now repaired border wall that was breached in early March near the Gordon's Well exit just off Interstate 8.
Sofia Castañeda Gonzalez in front of Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Mexicali, Mexico. Gonzalez lost her husband Jairo de Jesus Dueñas, 28 years old, of Mexicali when an SUV that he was riding in with 24 other undocumented immigrants collided with a tractor-trailer near Holtville, California in early March.
Mourners holding crosses with the names of the13 undocumented immigrants who lost their lives, listen to Deacon Marcos Lopez (left) from Brawley Catholic on March 10, 2021 near the crash site.
Tori Bosmenier (left) hugs Carmina Ramirez (right) at a vigil on March 10, 2021 at the crash site for the 13 undocumented immigrants who lost their lives in early March.
Enrique Morones (center) of Gente Unida leads a group of mourners for the 13 undocumented immigrants who died in early March when an SUV and a tractor-trailer collided near Holtville, California.
A "John Doe" buried at the end of Terrace Park Cemetery in Holtville, California on March 10, 2021. Undocumented immigrants, people who are not identified as well as family members who can't afford plots are buried in this section of the cemetery. As of last Wednesday 618 people have been buried, 357 are people whose names are known and 261 are John Does.
A man walks passed Hotel Kennedy in Mexicali, Mexico. Several of the migrants had been staying at cheap downtown hotels in Mexicali before preparing to cross the border.
Maria Felix Martinez Gonzalez helps her son Jose Eduardo Martinez Gonzalez, 16 years old sit up in his hotel bed in San Diego, California on March, 11, 2021.
Jose Eduardo Martinez Gonzalez shows his stomach with surgical staples after being hospitalized.