Cedar Attanasio, Jill Bleed And Anita Snow , The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, March 16, 2022 6:03PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, March 16, 2022 6:37PM EDT
HOBBS, N.M. – Nine people have died in a fiery, head-on collision in West Texas, including six students and a coach from a New Mexico university who were returning home from a golf tournament, authorities say.
Two students from Ontario were hospitalized in critical condition following the Tuesday evening crash. Those killed included University of the Southwest students from Portugal and Mexico.
A pickup truck crossed the centerline of a two-lane road in Andrews County, about 30 miles (50 kilometres) east of the New Mexico state line and crashed into a van carrying members of the university’s men’s and women’s golf teams, said Sgt. Steven Blanco of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Critically injured aboard the van were Canadian students Dayton Price, 19, of Mississauga, Ont., and Hayden Underhill, 20, of Amherstview, Ont. Both were taken by helicopter to the University Medical Center in Lubbock, 180 kilometres to the northeast.
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.”
The Texas Department of Public Safety has 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 travelling with him in the 2007 Dodge 2500 pickup.
The Mexican Federation of Golf posted an online note of condolence to the loved ones of Mauricio Sanchez.
The mother of freshman Laci Stone 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. “â€¦ We will never be the same after this and we just don’t understand how this happened to our amazing, beautiful, smart, joyful girl.”
Laci Stone graduated in 2021 from Nocona High School, where she played golf, volleyball and softball. She was majoring in global business management, according to her biography on the golf team’s website.
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. “This is kind of a shock.”
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.
“I told her God has a plan for her and that’s why she’s OK,” Tonya Collum said. “We knew all those people on board. Basically the whole team is gone or in the hospital.”
The National Transportation Safety Board was sending an investigative team to the crash site Wednesday, spokesman Eric Weiss said.
The golf team was travelling in a 2017 Ford Transit van that was towing a box trailer when it collided with the truck, and both vehicles burst into flames, Weiss said. It happened on a two-lane asphalt highway where the speed limit is 75 m.p.h. (120 kph), though investigators have not yet determined how fast either vehicle was travelling, he said.
The University of the Southwest is a private, Christian college located in Hobbs, New Mexico, near the state’s border with Texas.
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 had been taking part in a golf tournament at Midland College, about 315 miles (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.
The university said on Twitter 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 were 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.”
Bleed reported from Little Rock, Arkansas, and Snow reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writers Jake Bleiberg and Jamie Stengle in Dallas, and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.