By Stephen Ceasar,
Los Angeles Times
The wreckage of a Border Patrol SUV sits on the tracks in front of a freight train. Authorities say the train crew tried to get the driver's attention by blowing its horn.
Two U.S. Border Patrol agents chasing a group of suspected illegal immigrants were killed early Thursday after their SUV was struck by a freight train near Gila Bend, Ariz., about 80 miles north of the Mexico border.
Hector Clark, 39, and Edward Rojas, 34, were assisting other agents in the early-morning chase when they attempted to cross the tracks ahead of the 4,600-ton train, said Robert Lowry, an agency spokesman.
Both agents died at the scene.
The crew aboard the westbound Union Pacific freight train saw the vehicle driving on a frontage road north of the tracks when the unmarked SUV suddenly turned south onto a private crossing immediately in front of the fast-moving train, said Aaron Hunt, a Union Pacific Railroad spokesman.
Clark and Rojas attempted to cross the tracks to "box-in" the group of suspected illegal immigrants, Lowry said.
Typically, trains on that stretch of rail travel upwards of 40 mph and require at least half a mile to come to a complete stop. The train struck the vehicle on the driver's side and pushed it for at least a half-mile.
According to a preliminary investigation, agents spotted a group traveling by foot near Gila Bend late Wednesday, but decided to wait for daybreak to take action, said Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in a statement.
Agents, including Clark and Rojas, began pursuing the group about 6 a.m. Thursday.
Sheriff's deputies later arrested what is believed to be the same group of eight suspected illegal immigrants traveling on foot and carrying about 315 pounds of marijuana near the site of the crash, Arpaio said.
Both Clark and Rojas were assigned to the U.S. Border Patrol Yuma sector; they joined the agency in August 2001 and April 2000, respectively. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and the FBI are investigating the incident.