Arizona residents and Guatemalan immigrants in the US illegally were among eight people killed earlier this week in a head-on crash on a highway near the historic prison town of Florence, authorities said Friday.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety released the names of some of the people killed in the collision late Wednesday on State Route 79 involving an SUV and a Buick sedan about 120 miles north of the Mexico border.
Officials have not said whether the SUV was being used for a smuggling operation. But court records show the driver and passenger of the vehicle were previously convicted of immigrant smuggling charges.
Federal court records show 45-year-old Rodney Palimo pleaded guilty in March 2008 to a misdemeanor count of aiding and abetting an alien. He was initially charged with a felony count of transporting an immigrant in the US without permission.
His passenger, 43-year-old Kathleen Palimo, in 2004 pleaded guilty to a felony count of transporting aliens in the county illegally. The Palimos, from Sells, both died in the crash along with four of another seven men in the vehicle identified by state troopers as Guatemalans.
Guatemala’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement from Guatemala City that the country’s Tucson consulate was investigating the nationalities and identities of those killed. It said two of the dead men carried Guatemalan identity documents and a third had no papers. It made no mention of a fourth possible Guatemalan fatality.
The ministry said it was in contact with the relatives of the Guatemalan victims identified thus far.
Reports by both US and Guatemalan officials agreed that another three men believed to be Guatemalans were hospitalized with injuries. The ministry said its consulate in Phoenix was checking on the injured, one of whom had been identified as a Guatemalan citizen and released from the hospital.
It did not provide information on the conditions of the other two.
Also killed in the accident were the driver of the Buick, 41-year-old Angel Meza and his passenger, 33-year-old Nicole Vidal. Both were from the city of Eloy. Authorities have said the Buick veered into the opposite lane of traffic, striking the SUV.
Arizona has been the scene of a number of fatal crashes involving immigrants while they were being smuggled, including one near the border nearly a decade ago in which 10 people died after an SUV rolled over on a highway. Large numbers of Central American migrants, the majority of them Guatemalans, in recent months have been regularly turning up in remote desert areas of Arizona near the border with Mexico.
US Border Patrol agents on Sept. 16 found two groups of Central American migrants in the desert within hours of each other west of the US port of entry in Lukeville. Together, those two groups comprised 193 people, including 11 unaccompanied children.
Other large groups of Central Americans were found in the same general area on September 1 and August 17.