NTSB: 13-year-old boy was driving truck in Texas crash with University of the Southwest golf team van that killed 9 people

Christine Fernando, USA Today

The National Transportation Safety Board investigating the Texas crash that killed nine people and left two others injured said Thursday that a 13-year-old boy was driving the pickup truck involved in the collision.

The news came as family and loved ones grieved the victims of the fiery crash, which included six members of the University of the Southwest golf team and their coach. Two other golfers were hospitalized in critical condition.

Flowers, golf balls and a sign with a cross were laid at a memorial for the six New Mexico college students and their golf coach who were killed Tuesday.

“These kids were great kids, and they were great, great community members,” said Ben Kirkes, manager of Rockwind Community Links, where the students practiced in Hobbs, New Mexico. “They were polite and they were just a pleasure to be around.”

Kirkes helped set up the memorial at the golf course in the city near New Mexico’s southeast border with Texas.

The pickup truck crossed the center line of a two-lane road, hitting a van that was carrying nine students from the men’s and women’s golf teams at the University of the Southwest, a private Christian school near the state line. They were returning home from a tournament in Midland, Texas.

Head coach Tyler James, 26, of Hobbs, New Mexico, was among those killed. The students who died were identified as: 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.

The two people in the pickup truck also died: Henrich Siemens, 38, of Seminole, Texas; and the 13-year-old boy, who has not been identified.

NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg said Thursday that the crash occurred at high speed and that the front left tire of the pickup truck, which was a spare, was blown out before the impact.

In Texas, the minimum age for a teen to begin driving as part of classroom courses is 14, and they must be 15 to receive a provisional license. Department of Public Safety Sgt. Victor Taylor said a 13-year-old driving would be breaking the law.

University of the Southwest provost Ryan Tipton said Thursday that the two students who were critically injured remained at the hospital and were making steady progress.

“There is no indication for how long it’s going to take, but they are both stable and recovering and every day making more and more progress,” he said during a press conference.

A counselor and worship team are on campus to support grieving students, Tipton said.

As a Christian university, he added, “we also place our faith in something bigger than ourselves, and that’s what helps us heal.”

Well this certainly is a shocking twist in the terrible tragedy from Texas. The story of the USW golf team already had people grasping for answers, and this development just makes it all the more difficult to swallow.  When anyone gets behind the wheel they are taking their lives and other drivers lives into their hands… especially when there is a spare tire on the front. What an unbelievable lapse in judgement by the adult that accompanied the 13 year old in the oncoming vehicle. When faced with a blowout the immediate reaction would be to slam on the breaks and I’m speculating but the 13 year old most likely followed that course of action. There will inevitably be a swerve but if you can coast to a stop it will limit the fishtailing. The poor kid wouldn’t have had nearly enough experience to make the right decision in that fateful moment.

The golf community is coming together in a big way to help the families. Highlighted by MacKenzie Hughes giving $500 per birdie this week at the Valspar Championship. This move was driven by Golf Canada detailing the fact that two Ontario natives were in the van carrying the golf teams. Hayden Underhill and Dayton Price are in critical condition after surviving the crash that killed 9. When anyone that’s college aged loses their life it’s incredibly sad but this story hits closer to home for many people in the golf community so the GoFundMe pages are very important. Anything that can provide some solace and offset any costs the families are facing is a must. Ok, I’m going to stop typing now and go donate… as should everyone else.