Nine people – including six student athletes and their coach – were killed in a fiery crash between a pickup truck and a van carrying members of the University of the Southwest’s men’s and women’s golf teams, officials said Wednesday.
The crash happened around 8:17 p.m. Tuesday just outside Andrews, Texas, the Texas Department of Public Safety said.
“A Dodge 2500 pickup was traveling southbound on FM 1788. A Ford Transit passenger van registered to the University of the Southwest in Hobbs, NM was traveling northbound on FM 1788,” the DPS said in a statement. An earlier notice from the agency misidentified the pickup as a Ford F-150.
“For unknown reasons, the Dodge pickup drove into the northbound lane and struck the Ford passenger van head on,” DPS Sgt. Steven Blanco said. “Both vehicles caught fire and burned.”
Six students and one faculty member aboard the university van were killed, the DPS said. The driver and a passenger in the pickup truck also died.
“The USW campus community is shocked and saddened today as we mourn the loss of members of our university family,” read a statement from the university.
Members of the men’s and women’s golf teams were traveling back to their New Mexico campus from a tournament, USW said.
One victim was Laci Stone, a freshman member of the women’s golf team who was majoring in global business management, according to a family member.
“Last night Laci’s golf team was involved in a crash leaving a golf tournament. Our sweet Laci didn’t make it.,” Laci’s mother, Chelsi Stone, posted on Facebook. “Our Laci is gone! She has been an absolute ray of sunshine during this short time on earth.”
Laci, 18, of Nocona, Texas, was one of three siblings.
“We will never be the same after this and we just don’t understand how this happened to our amazing, beautiful, smart, joyful girl,” her mother said.
The school identified the other students who died 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; and Tiago Sousa, 18, of Portugal.
USW President Quint Thurman confirmed the death of coach Tyler James.
“Great coach and a wonderful man,” Thurman said in an email. “Don’t make them any better!”
James’ bio on the school website said he was in his first season as head coach and played golf at Ottawa University and Howard Payne University.
“He always cared for us and made sure we were always doing good on and off the golf course,” said freshman Phillip Lopez, who did not participate in the tournament.
“I just can’t believe that my teammates and my coach are gone,” Lopez told CNN.
Students Dayton Price, 19, of Mississauga, Ontario, and Hayden Underhill, 20, of Amherstview, Ontario, were in critical condition at University Medical Center of Lubbock, Texas, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The driver of the Dodge pickup was identified as Henrich Siemens, 38, of Seminole, Texas; the name of a 13-year-old male passenger was not released.
The speed limit on the two-lane roadway is 75 mph, National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Eric Weiss told reporters Tuesday afternoon. He said a fire consumed both vehicles after the “high-energy,” head-on collision. The speed of the vehicles is unclear.
State and local officials mourned the victims.
“I am shocked and deeply saddened by the loss of multiple members of the University of the Southwest golf teams in last night’s terrible, tragic accident,” New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement.
“My prayers are with the injured passengers and with the loved ones of those whose lives were lost, and I am holding the students, staff, and families of the University of the Southwest and the greater Hobbs community in my heart. They have experienced an unspeakable tragedy, and I know that the thoughts of all New Mexicans are with them in this trying time.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, in a statement, said: “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.
“The Texas Department of Public Safety is working closely with local officials to investigate this accident, and we offer our full support to the University of the Southwest and the state of New Mexico. I ask Texans to join Cecilia and me in praying for the families of those whose lives were lost and for the recovery of two critically injured students.”
The city of Hobbs said in a statement it was “deeply saddened and shocked” by the tragedy.
The statement noted that the city golf course Rockwind Community Links serves as home for the university’s teams.
“Please keep their players, students, families, and staff in your prayers as they experience this as one,” the statement said.
The tournament, hosted by Midland College at Ranchland Hills Golf Course in Midland, has been canceled. There were 11 schools in the two-day competition, which included both men’s and women’s teams, Midland College Athletic Director Forrest Allen said.
“We were all shocked to learn of this tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers are with USW as they grieve this terrible loss,” Allen said in a statement.
Midland College will fly its flags at half staff through Friday.
The weather in the area Tuesday evening was clear with no fog, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said. There were no freezing temperatures, and the wind was light at around 5 to 8 mph.
State officials, with assistance from the NTSB, are investigating the crash.
Weiss said an NTSB team of about 12 investigators were traveling to Texas – including agency vice chairman Bruce Landsberg.
A preliminary report will be issued in two weeks to a month, with a complete report to follow in 18 to 24 months, according to Weiss.
CNN’s Andy Rose, Caroll Alvarado, Ray Sanchez, Chris Boyette and Christine Sever contributed to this report.