HOBBS, NM (AP) — A 13-year-old was driving the pickup truck that hit a pickup truck in West Texas in a violent collision that killed nine people, including six members of a varsity golf team and their coach, a National Transportation Safety Board official said Thursday.
The child and a man traveling in the truck also died.
The truck’s left front tire, which was a spare tire, also burst before impact, NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg said.
While it’s unclear how fast the two vehicles were traveling, “it was clearly a high-speed collision,” Landsberg said.
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.
The van crossed into the opposite lane on a dark two-lane highway before colliding head-on with a pickup truck, killing the boy, a man traveling with him, six New Mexico college students and a golf coach.
The Southwest University students, including one from Portugal and one from Mexico, and the coach were returning from a golf tournament when the vehicles collided on Tuesday evening. Two Canadian students were hospitalized in critical condition.
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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. Although the area is rural, its roads can often be congested with traffic related to agriculture and oil and gas development.
Southwestern University spokeswoman Maria Duarte declined to comment on the NTSB’s announcement about the young driver, citing the ongoing investigation.
The golf teams were traveling in a 2017 Ford Transit van that was towing a trailer when it collided with the truck, and both vehicles caught fire, according to NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss.
He said the vehicles crashed on a two-lane tarmac highway where the speed limit is 75 mph (120 km/h), although investigators have yet to determine how fast either other vehicle was driving.
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 unidentified 13-year-old boy who were in the 2007 Dodge 2500 pickup 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 University Medical Center, about 180 kilometers to the northeast.
“They are both stable and recovering and every day is making more and more progress,” Southwestern University provost Ryan Tipton said Thursday of the two injured students.
“One of the students is eating chicken soup,” Tipton said, calling their recovery a “thumbs up game.”
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.
Underhill’s brother Drew said their parents, Ken and Wendy, flew to Texas.
“Hockey was a big part of his life for a while, but his real passion is golf,” said 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 .
“Any school would be thrilled to have had him as a student,” she said.
Stone’s mother opened up about her loss on Facebook on Wednesday, calling the teenager “an absolute ray of sunshine during this short time on earth”.
Team member Jasmin Collum was scheduled to play but decided at the last minute to visit her parents in Houston, her mother said.
“We knew all of these people on board,” Tonya Collum said. “Basically the whole team is gone or in the hospital.”
Southwestern University is a private Christian college located in Hobbs, New Mexico near the border with Texas.
A memorial was erected Wednesday at the course near the campus where the team practices. There were flowers, golf balls and a handmade sign with a cross and the initials USW.
“It’s the least we can do for the players, and of course Coach James,” said Rockwind Community Links Manager Ben Kirkes.
The University said on Twitter that counseling and religious services would be available on campus.
The teams had competed in a golf tournament at Midland College, about 505 kilometers west of Dallas. Midland College canceled Wednesday’s play because of the accident.
Associated Press writers Jake Bleiberg and Jamie Stengle in Dallas, Rob Gillies in Toronto and Barry Hatton in Lisbon contributed to this report.