Guatemala woman, 23, is among 13 killed in California crash

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FILE - In this Tuesday, March 2, 2021, file photo, law enforcement officers work at the scene of a deadly crash in Holtville, Calif. Nine migrants in an SUV packed with 25 people that drove through an opening in a border wall suffered major injuries after their vehicle slammed into a tractor-trailer and killed 13 others inside, the California Highway Patrol said Thursday, March 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

EL CENTRO, Calif. – One of the 13 people killed when the SUV smuggling them into California hit a tractor-trailer was a 23-year-old woman who was fleeing violence in Guatemala for the hope of a better life, family members said.

Yesenia Magali Melendrez Cardona had told her father she wanted to follow in his footsteps and go to the United States, where he had started a new life 15 years earlier, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

“She couldn’t reach the American dream,” her father, Maynor Melendrez of New York, told the paper in Spanish. He arrived in California on Wednesday.

“There are no words,” he said. “I couldn’t see her again, I couldn’t hug her.”

Yesenia and her mother, 46-year-old Verlyn Cardona, were among 25 people packed into a 1997 Ford Expedition that drove through a hole cut in a border fence on Tuesday. The vehicle, with a smuggler at the wheel, was driving through California’s agricultural Imperial Valley when it was broadsided at an intersection by a tractor-trailer hauling two empty trailers, authorities said.

Seventeen occupants were Mexican — 10 who died, including the driver, and seven who were injured. Nine migrants had major injuries, including two Guatemalans, authorities said.

The youngest injured was a 15-year-old girl whose name and nationality were undetermined, according to California Highway Patrol. She had major injuries.

The oldest was Verlyn Cardona. The Guatemala City woman lost consciousness. When she came to in the back of the broken SUV, her daughter was sprawled dead across her legs, family members told the Times.