Nine people have died in a fiery, head-on collision in West Texas, including six New Mexico university students and a coach returning from a golf tournament, as well as a 13-year-old boy, authorities said.
Those killed in the Tuesday evening crash included University of the Southwest students from Portugal and Mexico. Canadian students Dayton Price, 19, and Hayden Underhill, 20, were hospitalized in critical condition.
A pickup truck crossed the centre line of a two-lane road in Andrews County, about 50 kilometres east of the New Mexico state line and crashed into a van carrying members of the University of the Southwest men’s and women’s golf teams, said Sgt. Steven Blanco of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Price and Underhill were both taken by helicopter to University Medical Center in Lubbock, about 180 kilometres to the northeast. Price is from Mississauga, while Underhill is from Amherstview, Ont.
Underhill’s brother, Drew, said their parents, Ken and Wendy, were on a plane headed to Texas.
“Hockey was a big part of life for a while, but his true passion is golf,” Drew Underhill said. “From a small town in Ontario, he’s doing OK.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up by Price’s father, Darren, to raise money for his medical expenses.
The Texas DPS identified the deceased as: Golf coach Tyler James, 26, of Hobbs, New Mexico; and players Mauricio Sanchez, 19, of 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, of Portugal.
Also killed were Henrich Siemans, 38, of Seminole County, Texas, and an unidentified 13-year-old boy who had been traveling with him in the 2007 Dodge 2500 pickup.
WATCH: Texas police officer speaks after fatal bus crash carrying university golf teams:
The Mexican Federation of Golf posted an online note of condolence to the loved ones of Mauricio Sanchez.
Stone’s mother wrote of her loss on Facebook Wednesday.
“She has been an absolute ray of sunshine during this short time on earth,” Chelsi Stone said in a post. “We will never be the same after this and we just don’t understand how this happened to our amazing, beautiful, smart, joyful girl.”
Stone graduated from Nocona High School in Texas in 2021, where she played golf, volleyball and softball. She was majoring in global business management, according to her biography on the golf team’s website.
“She has been an absolute ray of sunshine during this short time on earth,” her mother, Chelsi Stone, said on Facebook. “We will never be the same after this and we just don’t understand how this happened to our amazing, beautiful, smart, joyful girl.”
Tyler James’ mother, June James, said she knew little about the circumstances of the accident. He coached the men and the women.
“We don’t know what happened. It’s a huge investigation. We don’t have any idea as of yet,” James said during a brief phone interview.
Team member Jasmin Collum had been scheduled to play but at the last minute decided instead to visit her parents in Houston, her mother said.
“We knew all those people on board,” Tonya Collum said. “Basically the whole team is gone or in the hospital.”
James was the driver of the university van, according to Midland College, the Texas school that was hosting 11 schools for a golf tournament over two days. The second day of play was cancelled.
He was in his first season as head coach of USW’s golf program, his school bio said.
NTSB to investigate crash site
The National Transportation Safety Board will send a 12-member “go team” to the crash site, including experts in human performance, vehicle and motor carrier factors and accident reconstruction, agency spokesman Eric Weiss said. The team is expected to arrive late Wednesday afternoon or early evening, he said.
“We’ll try to find out not only what happened, but why it happened, so we can possibly prevent things like this from happening in the future,” he said.
The golf team was traveling in a 2017 Ford Transit van that was towing a box trailer when it collided with a 2007 Dodge pickup truck, Weiss said. Both vehicles caught fire after the collision, he said, calling it a “high-energy event.”
The crash happened on a two-lane asphalt highway where the speed limit is 120 km/h, though investigators have not yet determined how fast either vehicle was traveling, Weiss said.
The University of the Southwest is a private, Christian college located in Hobbs, New Mexico, near the state’s border with Texas.
Memorial set up
A memorial was set up Wednesday at the course near campus where the team practices. There were flowers, golf balls and a handmade sign with a cross and the initials USW.
“It’s the very least we could to for the players, and of course Coach James,” said Rockwind Community Links Manager Ben Kirkes.
“These kids were great kids and they were great, great community members,” said Kirkes.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said on Facebook that she is “deeply saddened” by the loss of life.
“This is a terrible accident. As we await additional information from authorities, my prayers are with the community and the loved ones of all those involved,” she said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also expressed sympathy.
“We grieve with the loved ones of the individuals whose lives were horrifically taken too soon in this fatal vehicle crash near Andrews last night,” Abbott said.
The teams were taking part in a tournament at Midland College, about 505 kilometres west of Dallas.
“We are still learning the details about the accident but we are devastated and deeply saddened to learn about the loss of our students’ lives and their coach,” University President Quint Thurman said in a statement.
University working on notifying families
The university said on Twitter that it was working to notify family members of those involved in the crash, and that counselling and religious services would be available on campus.
Midland College, which hosted the golf tournament, said Wednesday’s play would be cancelled because of the crash. Eleven schools are participating in the event.
“All of the players and their coaches from the participating schools met together early this morning,” Midland College athletic director Forrest Allen said in a statement Wednesday. “We were all shocked to learn of this tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers are with USW as they grieve this terrible loss.”
The crash happened in the same area — but not the same roadway — where three people were killed in November when a pickup truck crashed into a school bus carrying members of the Andrews High School band.
The high school’s band director, the school bus driver and the driver of the pickup truck all died in that crash.