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The Associated Press

SAN DIEGO- The driver of an sports utility vehicle packed with suspected illegal immigrants and nearly 700 pounds (318 kilograms) of marijuana sped from police the wrong way on a California highway and crashed head-on into a patrol car, officials said.

Authorities say the incident late Wednesday was part of a pattern by smugglers who try to evade border checkpoints by veering into oncoming traffic, often at night, sometimes with their headlights off.

Seven people jumped out of the vehicle and fled into the bush about 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of San Diego, said Brian Pennings, a California Highway Patrol spokesman. Investigators quickly caught five of the occupants, who appeared to be illegal immigrants.

The captured passengers and the highway patrol officer whose car was rammed were not injured. The driver had not been found late Wednesday.

The vehicle had been modified with a heavy-duty front bumper and solid, silicone-filled tires that could not be punctured by the spike strips that the CHP lays down to disable regular tires. Investigators found 694 pounds (314.8 kilograms) of marijuana inside, Pennings said.

On June 30, an immigrant smuggler swerved into oncoming traffic on a highway 20 miles (32 kilometers) east of San Diego and struck a pickup truck, killing five people in the van, including a 13-year-old boy. The driver of the pickup was among those injured. The van driver was charged with murder.

On Aug. 1, a van packed with suspected illegal immigrants overturned about 140 miles (225 kilometers) east of Los Angeles, killing six people, including the driver, and injuring 14.
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