EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A driver who apparently struck a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle crashed into a canal with an SUV carrying several passengers. One person is dead, and seven others have been transported to hospitals, one with life-threatening injuries, authorities say.

“A bit after 5:30 a.m. we got a call reporting a vehicle that had fallen into a ditch at Artcraft and Upper Valley. We had the water rescue team show up at the scene and they pulled out six patients with moderate injuries, one patient with life-threatening injuries, so that’s seven patients, and one fatality confirmed,” said El Paso Fire Department spokesman Enrique Duenas.

The canal is but a few feet away from Upper Valley Road and carries waist-deep water, Border Report observed.

The El Paso Police Department’s Special Traffic Investigations unit is investigating the fatal crash.

“Border Patrol officers were conducting an operation and had a vehicle stopped at Upper Valley and Artcraft. Around that time, an SUV driving at a high rate of speed collided into one of the Border Patrol units and continued east on Upper Valley,” said EPPD spokesman Enrique Carrillo. “By the time Border Patrol units arrived moments later, the vehicle was nowhere to be found. A quick search was conducted, and it was located crashed inside the irrigation ditch.”

Upper Valley Road connects with Artcraft Road to the west, which leads to Interstate 10, and with Country Club Road to the east. County Club Road leads to McNutt Avenue in Sunland Park, New Mexico, which has been a hotbed for migrant smuggling activity for the past few years.

That being said, as of press time there was no official confirmation that Monday’s crash was a smuggling event.

Last week, an SUV fleeing authorities crashed into the side of a restaurant in West El Paso, with five migrants being transported to hospitals with injuries.

In late July, a driver fleeing the Border Patrol was involved in a rollover on McNutt Road in nearby Santa Teresa, New Mexico, with two migrants inside ending up dead. The driver later told authorities the smuggling organization he works for told him not to stop if chased by U.S. law enforcement.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas says the number of fatalities resulting from Border Patrol vehicle pursuits has “skyrocketed” from two deaths in 2019 to 22 in 2021.

‘No one to blame but the smugglers’

Carrillo acknowledged the spike in accidents involving migrant smuggling events in the area in the past few years.

“As you know, we’ve recently had a string of these types of crashes. Some have involved pursuits, others there has been no pursuit. The crashes may have started with some sort of law enforcement action and attempt to stop, and the drivers of those vehicles have fled,” Carrillo said.

The police spokesman said some organizations “want to assign blame” to law enforcement for the crashes.

“The blame should be assigned to only one group, and that is to the persons who are doing the smuggling of illegal immigrants,” Carrillo said. “The people to blame here are the coyotes that are smuggling innocent people and then doing everything they can by any and all means to evade, elude law enforcement, and the end result is what you see.”

Carrillo said residents of the neighborhood near the canal were lucky Monday’s crash did not injure some of them as well.

“These coyotes and the organizations that are doing the smuggling are endangering not only the persons that they’re smuggling but the public in general because this could have very easily involved persons that are headed to work. That time in the morning, people headed to work and along this area there are people jogging and walking,” he said.

But the ACLU says law enforcement should be held accountable, too.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (ACLU) has been studying recent crashes involving the U.S. Border Patrol in El Paso.

“A trend that I have observed over the past few months here in El Paso is Border Patrol leadership locally saying that their agents pulled back from a pursuit or didn’t pursue a vehicle and then just happened upon the accident further down the road,” Shaw Drake, Staff Attorney, Policy Council for the ACLU of Texas, told KTSM recently.