Border Patrol Officers Die In Crash

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The Border Patrol says two officers died Thursday after their car was hit by a train. They were in pursuit of smugglers when the accident happened.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Two U.S. Border Patrol agents are dead after a tragic accident in Arizona. They were killed during a high-speed chase in the desert.

As NPR's Ted Robbins reports, the agents were on the trail of smugglers when their vehicle was hit by a freight train.

TED ROBBINS: Border Patrol agents were pursuing a group of drug smugglers in the desert darkness yesterday morning near Gila Bend, Arizona. That's open desert and farmland about 80 miles north of the border and 80 miles southwest of Phoenix.

Mr. KENNETH QUILLIN (Spokesman, Border Patrol): There were agents in vehicles that were trying to corral the groups also. And there were agents on foot.

ROBBINS: Yuma Border Patrol spokesman Kenneth Quillin says Agents Eduardo Rojas Junior and Hector Clark were part of the team. They were driving a black SUV on a frontage road right alongside a Union Pacific freight train. The train was traveling at more than 60 miles an hour. The smugglers were on the south side of the tracks, the agents' SUV was on the north side.

Mr. QUILLIN: They were trying to get to the south side of the tracks. There is a dirt road that parallels the tracks on the south side.

ROBBINS: Union Pacific says the train's engineer spotted the Border Patrol vehicle and sounded a horn about a quarter mile ahead of a railroad crossing. The crossing had no railroad arms or lights. When the agents came to it, they turned right in front of the train without warning. The train slammed into their SUV and dragged it a half mile before stopping.

Border Patrol agents in the Yuma sector where Rojas and Clark were from get a class from Union Pacific on dealing with moving trains. But Kenneth Quillin says it's not necessarily the job hazard agents think of first.

Mr. QUILLIN: They're prepared for the worst. I don't know if you're really prepared for, you know, this type of accident.

ROBBINS: The area where the accident occurred is a common corridor for drug and immigrant smuggling. It leads to Phoenix and to interstates heading toward California. Earlier today, the Border Patrol caught the group of six smugglers and found backpacks nearby filled with marijuana.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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