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Immigrants thrown into canal in accident, rescued by deputies

April 20, 2001|By KELLY GRANT, Staff Writer

A case of being in the right place at the right time, mixed with some keen observation, may have saved the life of at least one suspected undocumented immigrant in a traffic accident Thursday.

Imperial County Sheriff's Office deputies Cliff King and Angel Ramos were on patrol westbound on Keystone Road around 9 p.m. when their car passed an eastbound vehicle, sheriff's Chief Deputy Jim Burns said.

Looking in the rearview mirror, one of the deputies noticed the vehicle's taillights bounce and then disappear in the darkness, Burns said.

The deputies turned around and came upon the scene of a traffic accident in which the pickup whose lights they'd seen vanish was upside down in a ditch filled with 4 feet of water, Burns said.

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Several occupants, thought to be undocumented immigrants, were pulling themselves out of the ditch. One woman was looking for her daughter, Burns said.

Ramos, who has only been with the Sheriff's Office for about a month, went into the water and pulled the woman's 5-year-old daughter from the truck's cab to safety, Burns said.

The officers did not know how many people were originally in the truck and were therefore uncertain if anyone was still trapped inside, Burns said.

Sgt. John Lemon, one of several sheriff's officers to respond to the accident, also went into the canal to look for others who may have been trapped inside the truck, but everyone had gotten out, Burns said.

Though the occupants fled the scene of the accident after climbing out of the ditch, deputies apprehended seven people believed to have been in the truck and turned them over to U.S. Border Patrol agents.

According to a California Highway Patrol press release, there were 10 to 12 suspected undocumented immigrants in the truck as it drove on Keystone Road.

The truck rolled into the ditch after the driver failed to negotiate a sweeping curve in the road, the release states.

One man, Tomas Cruz, 20, of Hidalgo, Mexico, was transported to El Centro Regional Medical Center for treatment of lacerations to his right hand, the release states.

Staff Writer Kelly Grant can be reached at 337-3441.

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