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4 of 8 killed in head-on collision IDed; 2 previously convicted for human smuggling

Officials have identified four of the people killed in a head-on crash Wednesday night when a passenger car crossed the yellow line and collided with a Chevy Suburban packed with nine people.

The collision killed eight people, six in the Suburban, including the driver and front-seat passenger, and both occupants of a Buick sedan.

Late Wednesday night, troopers from the Arizona Department of Public Safety responded to a two-vehicle collision on State Route 79 at milepost 122.3, just south of the city of Florence, about 50 miles northwest of Tucson. 

A Suburban carrying nine people was traveling northbound on the rural two-lane highway when it was struck head-on by a Buick passenger vehicle after the driver of the car crossed the centerline, said a DPS official in a news release. 

"It is unknown why the southbound Buick went left of center and collided head on with the Suburban," he said. 

The crash closed the two-lane highway for several hours, until it was re-opened around 4 a.m. Thursday, he said.

The driver of the Suburban was identified Friday as Rodney Palimo, 45, from Sells, Ariz. The front-seat passenger was identified as Kathleen Palimo, 43, also from Sells.

The driver of the car was identified as Angel Meza, 41, from Eloy, Ariz. The passenger was identified as Nicole Vidal, 33, also from Eloy. 

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Authorities have yet to identify the other passengers of the Suburban, but said that all seven men were Guatemalan nationals. 

Four of the men died in the crash and the surviving three were transported to area hospitals with "serious to life-threatening injuries." DPS had earlier announced that nine people were killed, but provided an update that one person was in "extremely critical condition."

Authorities said that Arizona DPS is working with the Department of Homeland Security to attempt to identify and make next-of-kin notifications, "which will take time to complete." 

Federal court records show that both Rodney Palimo and Kathleen Palimo pleaded guilty to charges of human smuggling in two separate cases. 

In 2008, Rodney Palimo was arrested when he, along with his nephew, attempted to smuggle 10 people into the United States through Eloy, Arizona. Palimo was initially charged with a felony, but he was able to enter into a "flip flop" agreement with federal prosecutors and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of aiding and abetting an alien to elude federal authorities, serving 90 days.

In 2004, Kathleen Palimo plead guilty to the transportation of illegal aliens, and was given four years probation. 

While crashes involving human smuggling attempts are rare, they can come with deadly consequences. 

Last year, a federal judge sentenced a Mexican man to 10 years in prison for his role in a crash that killed four immigrants near Eloy, Ariz., in 2008. 

Hector Salas-Garcia, 40, plead guilty to conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death after the truck he was driving, packed with at least 31 people, rolled over killing four. 

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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1 comment on this story

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2 comments
Sep 22, 2018, 6:56 am
-0 +0

An article on a deadly accident that has paragraphs of info on the victims and their past transgressions unconfirmed (but definitely illegal by inference) legal status and nothing but names for the driver and occupant of the car that actually caused the all these deaths. None of the extraneous info on the convicted smugglers or the suspected smugglees has any bearing whatsoever on the cause or effects of this accident while the perpetrators of this slaughter are barely mentioned. Hmmmmm?

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DPS

The Buick sedan that crashed into a Chevy Suburban on State Route 79 late Wednesday night, killing eight people, including four men from Guatemala who were in the country illegally.