An investigation into human smuggling is underway after a deadly crash near the U.S.-Mexico border in Imperial County killed 13 people, including a 22-year-old Guatemalan woman who died in her mother's arms.
An SUV with 25 people inside crashed with a semi-truck at about 6:30 Tuesday, near the border town of Calexico, ejecting several passengers from the overloaded vehicle. The Mexican consulate said at least 10 people riding in the SUV were Mexican nationals and at least two were from Guatemala.
One of those passengers was 22-year-old Yesenia Cardona who, along with her mother Berlin Cardona, 47, risked their lives for the chance at a better life in the U.S., according to their family member Rudy Dominguez.
"We don’t want to die in our country," Dominguez said, who is the brother of the elder Cardona. "That’s why we take this type of risk."
Berlin Cardona was eventually brought to Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego's Hillcrest neighborhood.
Dominguez said his niece died in her mother's arms following the sudden impact.
"It's so hard," Dominguez said. "I mean, it's so many things [going] on in our brain, and I don’t know how [Berlin Cardona] will handle this."
Berlin and Yesenia left their hometown in Guatemala a month ago, according to Dominquez.
He said he doesn't know the details of their journey but that he had last heard from them on Monday when they were in Mexicali, the Mexican city bordering Calexico.
While Dominguez admits the women crossed illegally, he said they did so due to the desperation they were living with in their daily lives.
"We take a chance," Dominguez said. "We don’t want to die over there. We take a chance to come here and see our dream come true."
On Tuesday, Customs and Border Protection shared an image of where they say the border wall was breached, allowing two different SUVs to cross into the U.S. Investigators later determined that the Ford Expedition the Cardonas were riding in was one of those vehicles.
The Mexican Consulate said any family members who need assistance can call (760) 455-2140. Offices in San Bernardino and San Diego can help with translation services if needed, the consulate said.