National Transportation Safety Board vice chairman Bruce Landsberg said Thursday that a 13-year-old was driving the pickup truck that struck a van carrying the University of the Southwest's golf teams in West Texas earlier this week.
The fiery head-on collision killed nine people.
As reported by The Associated Press, the NTSB sent an investigative team to the crash site in Texas’ Andrews County, about 30 miles east of the New Mexico state line. It determined that the truck’s left front tire — a spare tire — blew out before impact, Landsberg said.
The pickup truck crossed into the opposite lane Tuesday night on a darkened, two-lane asphalt highway where the speed limit is 75 miles per hour, though investigators have not yet determined how fast either vehicle was traveling. "This was clearly a high-speed collision,” Landsberg said.
Six athletes and their coach in the 2017 Ford Transit van were killed, as were the unidentified 13-year-old boy and a 38-year-old male passenger identified as Henrich Siemans in the 2007 Dodge 2500 pickup. Earlier reports misidentified the truck as a Ford F-150.
According to the AP, one must be 14 to start taking classroom courses for a learner’s license in Texas and 15 to receive that provisional license to drive with an instructor or licensed adult in the vehicle. Department of Public Safety sergeant Victor Taylor said a 13-year-old driving would be breaking the law.
The University of the Southwest students, including one from Portugal and one from Mexico, and the coach were returning from a golf tournament. Two Canadian students were hospitalized in critical condition.
The Texas Department of Public Safety identified the deceased as: golf coach Tyler James, 26; and players Mauricio Sanchez, 19; Travis Garcia, 19; Jackson Zinn, 22; Karisa Raines, 21; Laci Stone, 18; and Tiago Sousa, 18. The critically injured students include Dayton Price, 19, and Hayden Underhill, 20. Both were taken by helicopter to the University Medical Center in Lubbock, about 110 miles to the northeast and are in stable condition with daily improvement.
While reporting on the NTSB's determination that the 13-year-old was behind the wheel of the truck, the AP also reported that Texas Department of Public Safety sergeant Steven Blanco said Thursday that investigators have not yet confirmed who was driving either vehicle because of the severity of the crash and the fire that occurred afterward.
Meanwhile, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that coaches and athletic directors consider road trips through the region fraught with potential peril.
“On every single trip, there is a situation that you are lucky you avoided or it could have gone the other way,” Ryan Cordova,the head men’s basketball coach and athletic director of Northern New Mexico College,, told the New Mexican. “And you’re staying at a safe speed to avoid things like that."
Budget constraints often eliminate the possibility of chartering buses driven by professional drivers.
Even at Division I's University of New Mexico, some programs — golf, tennis, beach volleyball and soccer — still use what associate athletic director Ed Manzanares called “sprinter vans” similar to the one used by the University of the Southwest.