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8 dead, three injured after head-on crash in south-central Arizona

(Arizona Department of Public Safety Photo)

PHOENIX — Eight people were killed after two vehicles collided on a highway in south-central Arizona late Wednesday night.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety said the head-on crash occurred along State Route 79 south of Florence around 10 p.m. on Wednesday.

An early investigation found that a Chevrolet Suburban carrying nine people was traveling northbound on the highway when it was struck by a Buick that crossed the center line as it was traveling southbound.

The driver and five passengers in the Suburban and the driver and passenger in the Buick were killed. It was not immediately clear whether they all died on scene.

The three other passengers in the Suburban are hospitalized with serious to life-threatening injuries.

The cause of the crash is unknown.

The driver and passenger in the Buick were identified Friday as 41-year-old Angel Meza and 33-year-old Nicole Vidal, both from Eloy.

The driver and passenger in the Suburban were identified as Rodney Palimo and Kathleen Palimo, 45 and 43, respectively. They were both from Sells. The rest of the passengers, both deceased and injured, were only identified as “adult male Guatemalan nationals.”

Both directions of the highway were closed after the crash and reopened around 4 a.m. Thursday.

The investigation is ongoing.

Court records showed that Rodney Palimo and Kathleen Palimo had been previously convicted of immigrant smuggling charges.

Rodney Palimo pleaded guilty in March 2008 to a misdemeanor count of aiding and abetting an alien.

He was initially charged with a felony count of transporting an illegal alien.

SUV passenger Kathleen Palimo, 43, in 2004 pleaded guilty to a felony count of transportation of illegal aliens.

Editor’s note: The Arizona Department of Public Safety revised the death toll on Thursday. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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