A crash of a minivan carrying nine people on Utah’s main east-west highway near the Colorado border killed four people and injured four others. The accident occurred on Friday at Interstate 70 about 30 miles west from the Colorado line.
The police is now inspecting about the involvement of the vehicle, 1999 Toyota Sienna in human smuggling. They were looking for one person who was in the van but fled after the wreck.
According to the authorities four passengers were thrown from the van as it rolled down the middle of I-70 at about 4:30 a.m. It is still uncertain whether they were the four who died.
Investigators are unsure of the grounds of the crash, but they refuse the involvement of any other vehicle, Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Todd Royce said.
A smashed windshield and right door, and at least one missing wheel can be seen in the photos released by authorities.
All of the passengers are believed to be undocumented as the police were still investigating and did not yet know how old the passengers were, who they were, where do they belong from, or who was driving the minivan as none speak English.
This fact, along with the number of people in the car and the individual who fled, has led authorities to be certain of the van and its passengers being part of a human trafficking operation.
Human trafficking is the modern form of slavery, with illegal smuggling and trading of people, for forced labour or sexual exploitation.
In the U.S., human trafficking tends to prevail more around international travel-hubs like California and Texas, those with large immigrant populations.
According to estimation by the U.S. Justice Department, 17,500 people are trafficked into the country every year, but the actual figure could be greater, because of the large numbers of undocumented immigrants.
Federal anti-trafficking task forces opened 2,515 suspected cases of human trafficking, from 2008 to 2010,
82% of suspected incidents were classified as sex trafficking and nearly half of these involved minor victims.
Approximately 10% of the incidents were classified as labor trafficking.
According to the Department of State, the U.S. was identified as a Tier 1 country with unspecified federal agencies charging 181 individuals with trafficking other humans and obtaining 141 convictions in 103 human trafficking prosecutions.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 includes “involuntary servitude, slavery or practices similar to slavery, debt bondage and forced labor.”
Utah Highway Patrol is working with Immigration Customs Enforcement on the crash.
The survivors were brought to St. Mary’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Grand Junction, Colorado by the Emergency crews. Their injuries vacillated from serious to critical, Royce said.
Utah Department of Transportation spokesman John Gleason said that the crash shut down the interstate, backing up eastbound traffic for 5 miles.
Gleason said traffic was flowing routinely at about 10:15 a.m., approximately an hour after the reopening of one eastbound lane.