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U.S.-Mexico border crossing in San Ysidro reopened after shootout

September 23, 2009 |  8:55 am

All lanes at the nation's busiest border crossing reopened this morning after at least two U.S. agents attempted to stop smugglers from speeding through the San Ysidro Port of Entry on Tuesday by firing their weapons at three vans loaded with suspected illegal immigrants.

Three people in the vans suffered injuries and a man in a nearby car also was injured in the unusually brazen smuggling attempt Tuesday, U.S. authorities said. A total of 76 people inside the vans were arrested.

The San Diego Police Department declared the port a crime scene and shuttered the 24-lane border crossing to vehicular traffic. Northbound traffic at the checkpoint, where about 40,000 cars cross daily from Mexico, was backed up into Tijuana for miles as police investigated.

By 8 p.m., 12 lanes had reopened, and the rest were opened at 4 a.m. today, said Angelica De Cima, a spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection.

Smugglers on occasion attempt to run the border crossing, but rarely in such a coordinated fashion or with so many suspected illegal immigrants.

The vans, one following the other, tried to speed past a booth as a Customs and Border Protection agent checked the first vehicle's license, according to a law enforcement statement. Officials deployed a runner-alert system: An alarm blared and gates and metal barriers automatically blocked exits out of the secondary inspection area, which was already full of cars. The vans attempted to find an open lane but ended up stuck in traffic, the police statement said.

At least one Customs and Border Protection agent and one agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement fired at the driver of the third van as he sped toward them, the statement said. According to police, a second Customs and Border Protection agent also opened fire, but De Cima could not immediately confirm that.

Police said two people suffered gunshot wounds: the 31-year-old man who was driving the third van and one of his passengers, a 42-year-old man. Another passenger, a 37-year-old man, suffered a head injury and cuts when the van struck a vehicle while trying to escape. All three were taken to hospital along with a 30-year-old man who was a passenger in the vehicle struck by the fleeing van, police said.

Two of the three van drivers were arrested Tuesday, but the third fled back into Mexico, police said. A total of 74 suspected illegal immigrants were detained from the vans.

Police and federal agents worked through the night, interviewing suspects and witnesses. The investigation continues this morning and has been extended into Mexico, U.S. authorities said.

-- Alexandra Zavis