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Border Patrol says El Paso car crash that killed 7 stemmed from human smuggling case

EL PASO, Texas -- The U.S. Border Patrol chief for the El Paso sector said Saturday that one of the deadliest car crashes in the city's history was the result of a human smuggling attempt.

Thursday's early morning crash in the downtown area that killed seven and seriously injured three others came after Border Patrol agents briefly chased the car because they said it was seen leaving an area "known for alien smuggling activity."

RELATED STORY: 3 families now tell ABC-7 they believe loved ones are among 7 victims killed in El Paso crash

In a statement Saturday, Chief Patrol Agent Gloria Chavez called it a "human smuggling incident" that resulted in the deadly crash.

She said Border Patrol had confirmed, after the crash, that there were "three illegal aliens: two from Mexico and one from Guatemala" among the ten people in the car. El Paso police a day prior had indicated people of three nationalities were in the vehicle.

"All preliminary information collected thus far indicates that it was indeed a human smuggling event," Chavez said.

Aside from noting that several people in the car were from Central America, Chavez did not share any additional evidence gathered by investigators that led to her conclusion.

Of those crash victims identified so far by El Paso police, which is leading the crash investigation, it indicated all were between the ages of 16 and 25.

Chavez said in her statement that criminal groups "manipulate the youth in our communities by recruiting them to be their mules and their smugglers. Human smuggling is as lucrative as drug smuggling, if not more, and our youth are being targeted."

But Chavez did not elaborate specifically as it related to Thursday's incident, in which a compact 4-door sedan drove off as agents attempted to stop it, ultimately crashing into a parked semi-trailer a short time later.

The Border Patrol chief on Saturday maintained her agents "terminated the pursuit almost as soon as it began," citing the high speed and road conditions along that stretch of Paisano Street - which El Paso police say is no stranger to traffic crashes. She said "agents later came upon the vehicle."

However, a witness interviewed previously by ABC-7 has disputed the Border Patrol's contention that agents had backed off from chasing the car before it crashed.

The witness said he saw the car speed by at what he believed to be 90 miles an hour, with the Border Patrol following with flashing lights, moments before the crash. He said the agents arrived at the crash scene within 10 to 15 seconds of it occurring.

Thursday’s deadly crash was the second of the year to occur in that same area. According to ABC-7 archives, a man was killed in a January crash after also trying to avoid Border Patrol agents.

Chavez has declined interview requests and instead issued Saturday's statement without taking any questions from ABC-7 or other news outlets.

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Jim Parker

Jim Parker is the Director of Digital Content for ABC-7.

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