By JILL BLEED and ANITA SNOW
Nine people 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 said.
A pickup truck crossed the center line of a two-lane road in Andrews County, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of the New Mexico state line on Tuesday evening and crashed into a van carrying members of the University of the Southwest men’s and women’s golf teams, said Sgt. Steven Blanco of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Six students and a faculty member were killed in the crash along with the driver and a passenger in the pickup truck, Blanco said. Two students were taken in critical condition by helicopter to a hospital in Lubbock, about 110 miles (180 kilometers) to the northeast.
Family members confirmed freshman Laci Stone was among those who died in the crash. Stone graduated from Nocona High School in Texas in 2021, where she played golf, volleyball and softball.
“She has been an absolute ray of sunshine during this short time on earth,” her mother, Chelsi Stone, said on Facebook. “… 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 was majoring in global business management, according to her biography on the golf team’s website.
Golf coach Tyler James also died, according to his mother, June James, adding that she knew little about the circumstances. 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.
“Otherwise, who knows?” Tonya Collum said. “I told her God has a plan for her and that’s why she’s OK. We knew all those people on board. Basically the whole team is gone or in the hospital.”
The National Transportation Safety Board will send a 12-member “go team” to the crash site, including experts in human performance, vehicle and motor carrier factors and accident reconstruction, agency spokesman Eric Weiss said. The team is expected to arrive later Wednesday, he said.
“We’ll try to find out not only what happened, but why it happened, so we can possibly prevent things like this from happening in the future,” he said.
The golf team was traveling in a 2017 Ford Transit van that was towing a box trailer when it collided with a 2007 Dodge pickup truck, Weiss said. Both vehicles caught fire after the collision, he said, calling it a “high-energy event.”
The crash happened on a two-lane asphalt highway where the speed limit is 75 mph (120 kph), though investigators have not yet determined how fast either vehicle was traveling, Weiss 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 were taking part in a golf tournament at Midland College, about 315 miles (505 kilometers) 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 it was working to notify family members of those involved in the crash, and that counseling and religious services would be available on campus.
Midland College, which hosted the golf tournament, said Wednesday’s play would be canceled 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.”