13-year-old drove pickup in Texas crash that killed 9, NTSB says

Memorial wreaths, bouquets and a line of golf balls on a golf course
Golf balls adorn a makeshift memorial at a New Mexico golf course Wednesday for student golfers and a coach who were killed in a crash in Texas.
(John Locher / Associated Press)

A 13-year-old was driving the pickup truck that struck a van in west Texas in a fiery collision that killed nine people, including six members of a college 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, blew out before impact, said NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg.

Although it is unclear how fast the two vehicles were traveling, “this was clearly a high-speed collision,” Landsberg said.


One must be 14 to start taking classroom courses for a learner’s license in Texas, and 15 to receive a provisional license to drive with an instructor or licensed adult. Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Victor Taylor confirmed that a 13-year-old driving would be breaking the law.

To stem traffic fatalities, the government is pursuing a new strategy aimed at reducing speed, redesigning roads and boosting car safety features.

The pickup truck crossed into the opposite lane on a darkened, two-lane highway and collided head-on with a van, killing the boy, a man traveling with him, six New Mexico college students and their golf coach.

The University of the Southwest students, including one from Portugal and one from Mexico, were returning from a golf tournament with their coach. Tuesday evening’s crash also left two Canadian students hospitalized in critical condition.

The NTSB sent an investigative team to the crash site in Texas’ Andrews County, about 30 miles east of the New Mexico state line. While the area is rural, its roads are often busy with traffic related to agriculture and oil and gas development.

University of the Southwest spokeswoman Maria Duarte declined to comment on the NTSB’s announcement about the young driver, citing the ongoing investigation.

The school’s golf team was traveling in a 2017 Ford Transit van that was towing a box trailer when it collided with the truck, and both vehicles burst into flames, according to NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss.

He said the vehicles collided on a two-lane asphalt highway where the speed limit is 75 mph, though investigators have not yet determined how fast either vehicle was traveling.

The Texas Department of Public Safety identified the dead as golf coach Tyler James, 26, of Hobbs, N.M.; and players Mauricio Sanchez, 19, of Mexico; Travis Garcia, 19, of Pleasanton, Texas; Jackson Zinn, 22, of Westminster, Colo.; Karisa Raines, 21, of Fort Stockton, Texas; Laci Stone, 18, of Nocona, Texas; and Tiago Sousa, 18, of Portugal.

No students were hurt by the crash, authorities said, adding that mental health therapists would be on the campus Thursday to help students and staff as needed.

Also killed were Henrich Siemans, 38, of Seminole County, Texas, and the unidentified 13-year-old boy who was driving him in the 2007 Dodge 2500 pickup.

Critically injured aboard the van were Canadian students Dayton Price, 19, of Mississauga, Ontario; and Hayden Underhill, 20, of Amherstview, Ontario. Both were taken by helicopter to the University Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas, about 110 miles to the northeast.

“They are both stable and recovering, and every day making more and more progress,” University of the Southwest Provost Ryan Tipton said Thursday of the two injured students.

“One of the students is eating chicken soup,” said Tipton, calling their recovery “a game of inches.”

Tipton said University President Quint Thurman had visited the students’ parents at the hospital, illustrating the close community at the college with only about 350 on-campus students.

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.

The Mexican Federation of Golf posted an online note of condolence to Sanchez’ loved ones.

Sousa was from Portugal’s southern coast, where he graduated from high school last summer before heading to college in the U.S., said Renata Afonso, head of Escola Secundária de Loulé.

“Any school would be delighted to have had him as a student,” she said.

Stone’s mother wrote of her loss on Facebook on Wednesday.

“She has been an absolute ray of sunshine during this short time on earth.… We will never be the same after this and we just don’t understand how this happened to our amazing, beautiful, smart, joyful girl,” Chelsi Stone said in a post.

Golf team member Jasmin Collum had been scheduled to play at the tournament, but at the last minute decided to visit her parents in Houston instead, her mother said.

“We knew all those people on board,” Tonya Collum said. “Basically the whole team is gone or in the hospital.”

The University of the Southwest is a private Christian college in Hobbs, N.M., near the state line with Texas.

A memorial was set up Wednesday at the course near campus where the team practices. There were flowers, golf balls and a handmade sign with a cross and the initials USW.

The crash occurred around 4:30 p.m. at Sunset Boulevard and Allenford Avenue, police said.

“It’s the very least we could to 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 team had been taking part in a golf tournament with 10 other schools at Midland College, about 315 miles west of Dallas.