8 killed in fiery crash after deputies chased suspected human smuggler near San Antonio, DPS says

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Thursday, November 9, 2023
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SAN ANTONIO, Texas (KTRK) -- Eight people died in a fiery car crash after deputies chased a driver suspected of smuggling migrants southwest of San Antonio, the Texas Department of Public Safety said.

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Authorities said the deadly wreck happened on Wednesday, at US-57 near Batesville, about 80 miles southwest of San Antonio, at about 6:30 a.m.

A Houston driver was allegedly hauling migrants while trying to outrun deputies from the Zavala County Sheriff's Office, according to DPS.

Investigators said the Houston man was driving a 2009 Honda Civic when he tried to pass a semi-truck on a two-lane road. During the lane change, which was in a no-passing zone, he drove head-on into a 2015 Chevrolet Equinox, according to troopers.

Lt. Chris Olivarez posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the head-on crash resulted in the Chevy bursting into flames, killing the driver and passenger from Georgia.

In an update, authorities identified the victims as 67-year-old Jose Lerma and 65-year-old Isabel Lerma.

Olivarez said troopers confirmed that the driver and five passengers, several from Honduras, were killed.

It is the latest deadly vehicle crash involving migrants, marking the highest death toll since 13 people died in a collision in remote Holtville, California, in March 2021.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas has tallied 106 deaths in Border Patrol vehicle pursuits from January 2010 to June of this year. Deaths averaged 3.5 a year through 2019 but spiked in 2020, leading officials to develop a new policy for vehicle pursuits with an eye toward increasing safety.

The policy announced in January stops short of prohibiting pursuits but, according to CBP, "provides a clear framework for weighing the risks of conducting pursuits, such as the dangers they present to the public, against the law enforcement benefit or need."

Local law enforcement agencies have been involved in fatal crashes as well in recent years. In June 2022, four migrants were killed in a smuggling attempt following a police chase in the South Texas city of Encinal, about 80 miles southeast of Wednesday's crash.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.