Eli Hartman/Odessa American via AP
HOBBS, NM – The investigation into this week’s fiery frontal crash in West Texas is now focused on the revelation that a 13-year-old was driving the pickup truck that struck a pickup truck, killing nine people, including six members of a college golf club. team and its coach.
The still unidentified teenage boy and a man traveling in the truck also died.
National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg revealed Thursday that the truck was being driven by the child. He said the truck’s left front tire, which was a spare tire, burst before impact.
The van crossed into the opposite lane on the darkened two-lane highway before colliding head-on with the van. Both vehicles caught fire.
While it’s unclear how fast the two vehicles were traveling, “it was clearly a high-speed collision,” Landsberg said.
Landsberg said investigators were hoping to recover enough information from the vehicles’ recorders, if they survived, to figure out what happened. He said many in the van were not wearing seat belts and at least one was ejected from the vehicle.
It is not uncommon for young teenagers to drive in this area and other more rural parts of the United States. You must be 14 years old in Texas to start taking classroom lessons for a learner’s permit and 15 years old to receive this provisional license to drive with an instructor or licensed adult in the vehicle.
Department of Public Safety Sgt. Victor Taylor said a 13-year-old driver would be breaking the law.
Southwestern University athletes were returning from a golf tournament
The Southwestern University students, including one from Portugal and one from Mexico, and the coach were returning from a golf tournament in Midland, Texas when the vehicles collided on Tuesday evening. Two Canadian students were hospitalized in critical condition.
The NTSB sent a team of investigators to the crash site in Andrews County, Texas, about 50 miles east of the New Mexico state line.
Southwestern University spokeswoman Maria Duarte declined to comment on the NTSB’s announcement about the young driver, citing the ongoing investigation. The private Christian college is located in Hobbs, New Mexico near the Texas state line.
According to NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss, the golf teams were traveling in a 2017 Ford Transit pickup truck that was towing a box trailer when it collided with the 2007 Dodge 2500 pickup.
The speed limit at the crash site is 75 mph (120 km/h), he said.
The Texas Department of Public Safety identified the deceased as: golf coach Tyler James, 26, of Hobbs, New Mexico; and players Mauricio Sanchez, 19, from Mexico; Travis Garcia, 19, of Pleasanton, Texas; Jackson Zinn, 22, of Westminster, Colorado; Karisa Raines, 21, of Fort Stockton, Texas; Laci Stone, 18, of Nocona, Texas; and Tiago Sousa, 18, from Portugal.
Henrich Siemens, 38, of Seminole County, Texas, and the 13-year-old boy who were in the truck were also killed.
Canadian students Dayton Price, 19, of Mississauga, Ont., and Hayden Underhill, 20, of Amherstview, Ont., were seriously injured in the van. Both were taken by helicopter to Lubbock, about 180 kilometers to the northeast.
“They are both stable and recovering, and each day is making more and more progress,” Provost Ryan Tipton of Southwestern University said Thursday.
“One of the students is eating chicken soup,” Tipton said, calling their recovery a “thumbs up game.”
In New Mexico, students and coach who were killed are mourned
Tipton said university president Quint Thurman visited the students’ parents at the hospital, illustrating the community close to the college with only about 350 students on campus.
“Hockey was a big part of his life for a while, but his real passion is golf,” said Underhill’s brother Drew Underhill.
The Mexican Golf Federation has posted a note of condolence online to the loved ones of Mauricio Sanchez.
Sousa was from the southern coast of Portugal, where he graduated from high school last summer before heading to college in the United States, said Renata Afonso, principal of the Escola Secundária de Loulé .
A memorial was erected Wednesday at the golf course near campus where the team trains, complete with flowers, golf balls and a handmade sign. Counseling and religious services were made available on campus.
About 150 people turned out Thursday night to remember Jackson Zinn at the Texas Roadhouse, a restaurant where he worked and met his girlfriend of five months.
“We met here at exactly this table,” said 20-year-old Maddy Russell of Hobbs. “He was my heart.
Mourners released about 100 blue and orange balloons into the cold, whipping wind from eastern New Mexico, which quickly disappeared over the horizon.