SOUTH TEXAS -- Authorities continue to work to identify each of the 15 people killed in a deadly pickup truck accident in South Texas near Goliad.
They are among 23 people packed into the truck when it ran off the road Sunday.
Investigators suspect the truck was carrying illegal immigrants headed to Houston. Smugglers often use stolen trucks.
“They want these vehicles for narcotics trafficking, human trafficking, smuggling weapons, cash into Mexico,” said Stephen Plummer, with the El Paso Police Department’s Auto Theft Task Force.
Plummer has been on the task force since it was created in 1993 to target car theft rings in the border city. Heavy duty trucks are the vehicles of choice for cartel smugglers.
“It can be up to a one-ton truck that they can carry even more people or cargo in the vehicle,” said Plummer.
Aerial video captured by Texas Department of Public Safety helicopters patrolling the border shows truck after truck loaded with drugs racing from the river to roads.
On one of the surveillance videos shot in the Rio Grande Valley a DPS pilot on the radio points out, “There’s another with a (FORD) F250 with six cartel members loading."
In another scene smugglers race back to the Rio Grande after they are spotted. When the truck nears the banks, it drives into the river and men on rafts quickly approach and unload packages from truck and take the drugs back to Mexico.
All of the trucks used in what DPS calls “splashdowns” are stolen.
Thieves can be stopped. El Paso was the number one city in per capita auto thefts in 1993, the year the task force was created.
Back then the thieves were stealing 130 vehicles a week. Now it’s about 30 a week.
Tougher law enforcement combined with prevention efforts helped reduce thefts. Many of the stolen vehicles are not locked.
“Half the vehicles in the state of Texas are unsecured or have the keys in them," said Plummer.
That’s a statewide figure.