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Human Smuggling Investigated After Fatal Rollover Near Utah-Colorado Border

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP/CBS4) – A minivan carrying nine people rolled and crashed early Friday on Utah’s main east-west highway near the Colorado border, killing four people and injuring four others.

Police were investigating whether the vehicle was involved in human smuggling. Homeland Security is leading that investigation.

All nine people are believed to be from either El Salvador or Mexico.

They were searching for a woman who was in the van but ran off after the wreck on Interstate 70 about 30 miles from the Colorado line. She still hasn’t been found.

An image from the crash (credit: Utah Highway Patrol)

An image from the crash (credit: Utah Highway Patrol)

Authorities said four passengers were thrown from the 1999 Toyota Sienna as it rolled down the middle of I-70 at about 4:30 a.m., authorities said. It was unclear whether they were the four who died.

Investigators don’t know what caused the crash, but they believe no other vehicles were involved, Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Todd Royce said.

The van was headed east but so far investigators aren’t sure of a final destination.

Photos released by authorities show a smashed windshield and right door, and at least one missing wheel.

Police were still investigating and did not yet know how old the passengers were, where they were from or who was driving the minivan. The survivors apparently do not speak English, Royce said.

Emergency crews brought the hurt passengers to St. Mary’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Grand Junction, Colo. Their injuries ranged from serious to critical, Royce said.

Investigators said it’s very common to see cases like this with older cars where the seats are removed to fit more people inside. They said the worst part is smugglers don’t care about human life, only about getting paid.

Colorado State Patrol Troopers said in the past they’ve stopped as many as three human smuggling vehicles a day.

“This causes crashes, is the bottom line. That is what our troopers are concerned with,” said Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Mike Baker.

The crash shut down the interstate, backing up eastbound traffic for 5 miles, Utah Department of Transportation spokesman John Gleason said.

Gleason said traffic was flowing normally at about 10:15 a.m., approximately an hour after officials reopened one eastbound lane.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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