NEAR DONNA — Four people died and seven were critically injured Sunday morning after the driver of a white minivan packed with illegal immigrants crashed near Donna.
Border Patrol agents spotted the white minivan near the Rio Grande shortly before 8 a.m. Sunday, said agency spokesman Enrique Mendiola. The driver apparently noticed Border Patrol and took off, heading north on Farm-to-Market Road 493.
“Apparently it struck a tree and rolled into a sugarcane field,” Mendiola said, near the intersection with Mile 4 North.
The horrific wreck threw four people from the white Mercury minivan, which had temporary license plates. Border Patrol agents found them dead at the scene. Another seven were rushed to McAllen Medical Center, Knapp Medical Center and Rio Grande Regional Hospital, said Weslaco Emergency Management Coordinator George Garrett.
The buzzing of a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter woke Raciel Garcia, 37, who lives on nearby Figueroa Street, around 9 a.m. The helicopter circled overhead, looking for anyone who might have escaped into the nearby sugarcane field.
“All we’ve seen is just speed chases,” Garcia said. “But you don’t see this every day. Nothing like this.”
The news spread quickly, drawing Maria Garces and her family to the scene. The 46-year-old Mercedes resident feared her brother was among the dead or injured.
“He was deported two weeks ago,” Garces said, and planned to return though the eastern part of Hidalgo County. “That’s why we’re worried.”
It wasn’t clear why the minivan’s driver apparently lost control of the vehicle and crashed.
The bumpy, narrow road just outside the city limits runs straight to the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge. On a clear Sunday morning, the north-south road isn’t difficult to navigate.
With help from DPS, Donna police will recreate the wreck, Garrett said, and attempt to determine what went wrong.
Border Patrol agents were looking for the minivan, but didn’t chase it, Mendiola said. They searched for the vehicle farther north before doubling back on F.M. 493 and finding the wreck.
“There was no chase,” Mendiola said. “The vehicle spotted our marked unit, headed up north and booked it.”
Smugglers typically buy cheap cars without asking many questions, Mendiola said. They fill the vehicles with illegal immigrants and drugs, and drive fast to avoid law enforcement. Occasionally, they drive at night without lights to avoid detection.
The results have been tragic.
In April, nine illegal immigrants died after the teenage smuggler driving them through Palmview lost control of his vehicle after a pursuit. The gruesome wreck left bodies strewn across the Expressway 83 frontage road.
Eight years ago, a smuggler driving through Hidalgo flipped his vehicle into a canal, drowning nine illegal immigrants.
“These people are putting their lives in the hands of these ruthless smugglers,” Mendiola said. “And the American dream turns into the American nightmare for these folks.”