THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s previous story follows below.
HOBBS, NM (AP) – Authorities are trying to determine why a pickup truck crossed the opposite lane on a dark two-lane highway in West Texas before colliding head-on with a pickup truck, killing nine people, including six students from New Mexico and a golf coach, as well as a 13-year-old boy.
The Southwest University students, including one from Portugal and one from Mexico, and the coach were returning from a golf tournament. A man in the van with the boy was also killed in Tuesday night’s fire accident. Two Canadian students were hospitalized in critical condition.
The National Transportation Safety Board was sending a team of investigators to the crash site in Andrews County, Texas, about 50 miles east of the New Mexico state line.
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 collided 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 or the 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 an unidentified 13-year-old boy who were in the 2007 Dodge 2500 pickup were also killed. Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Steven Blanco said on Thursday that investigators have yet to confirm who was driving either vehicle due to the severity of the crash and subsequent fire.
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.
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. “Coming from a small town in Ontario, he’s doing well.
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.
“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 and cheerful daughter.”
Stone is a 2021 graduate of Nocona High School, where she played golf, volleyball and softball. She was a freshman majoring in global business management, according to her biography on the golf team’s website.
James’ mother, June James, said she knew little about the circumstances of the collision. He coached both men and women.
“We don’t know what happened. It’s a huge survey. We have no idea at the moment,” James said in a brief phone interview.
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.
“These kids were great kids and they were great community members,” Kirkes said.
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said on Facebook that she was “deeply saddened” by the loss of life.
“This is a terrible accident. As we await further information from the authorities, my prayers are with the community and loved ones of everyone involved,” she said.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott also expressed sympathy.
“We mourn with the loved ones of the people whose lives were horribly taken too soon in that fatal car crash near Andrews last night,” Abbott said.
The teams had participated in a golf tournament at Midland College, about 505 kilometers west of Dallas.
“We are still learning the details of the accident, but we are devastated and deeply saddened to learn of the loss of life of our students and their coach,” university president Quint Thurman said in a statement. .
The University said on Twitter that religious counseling and services would be available on campus.
Midland College said Wednesday’s play will be canceled due to the accident. Eleven schools participated in the event.
“All of the players and their coaches from participating schools met 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 the USW as they mourn this terrible loss.”
This story has been updated to correct Henrich Siemens’ last name and to remove reference to him as the driver of the van, as authorities did not specify who was driving.
Bleeding reported from Little Rock, Arkansas, and Snow reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writers Jake Bleiberg and Jamie Stengle in Dallas, Rob Gillies in Toronto and Barry Hatton in Lisbon contributed to this report.
Attanasio is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.
Cedar Attanasio, Jill Bleed and Anita Snow, Associated Press