TUCSON, Ariz. -- Eight people being smuggled to Phoenix in a U-Haul box truck Sunday afternoon were hospitalized for heat exhaustion, according to the Pinal County Sheriff's Office.
Someone called 911 after seeing people "falling out and staggering" as they attempted to get out of the truck at a travel center along Interstate 10 near Picacho Peak.
Deputies arrived and found several Hispanic men and women standing, sitting or lying nearby or inside the truck.
They told the deputies that they were all picked up in Douglas, Ariz., by a man who was driving the truck and a woman who was the front seat passenger. They said they had paid $5,000 each for transportation to Phoenix.
During the ride, many became severely dehydrated and overheated.
Emergency medical personnel arrived and worked with deputies to render aid. Two people were in critical condition and had to be airlifted to a hospital. Six others were transported by ground ambulance to local hospitals.
Sheriff's spokesman Tim Gaffney said additional people fled on foot. Members of the U.S. Border Patrol located them in the desert east of the U-Haul. They were transported to a substation to be interviewed.
"My deputies continue to do their job attempting to stop those who are involved with drug and human smuggling from traveling freely through the United States," Sheriff Paul Babeu said in a news release.
"This is another example of how an unsecured border facilitates the inhumane and often deadly consequences of those involved with drug and human smuggling," he continued. "The outside temperature yesterday was extremely hot and inside of the locked box of the U-Haul temperatures may have reached over 180 degrees. Thankfully an alert citizen called 9-1-1 in time and deputies along with EMS personnel were able to provide lifesaving treatment."