Nine people, including six students and their golf coach, were killed when a van carrying members of a New Mexico university’s golf teams collided with a pickup truck Tuesday night, law enforcement and university officials confirmed.
Students from the University of the Southwest women’s and men’s golf teams were returning home from a tournament when a pickup truck crossed the center line of a two-lane road in West Texas “for unknown reasons” and struck their van head-on, the Texas Department of Public Safety said in statement.
Both vehicles caught fire, the department said.
The university confirmed head coach Tyler James was killed in the collision. Both the driver and the passenger of the pickup truck also died, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Those who knew James said it had been his goal to be a head coach.
“That was his dream job, to be a head coach and he was living out his dream,” said Ryan Erwin, vice president for student engagement and athletics at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall.
University of the Southwest officials said in a statement that seven of the van’s nine passengers were killed, including James. Two students were taken to a hospital by helicopter. Both were in critical condition.
Most of the students in the van were freshman who were getting their first taste of life away from home at the private Christian university.
Among the victims was Laci Stone, 18, of Nocona, Texas.
Stone had begged her mother to get matching heart tattoos before leaving Texas and returning to New Mexico to finish out her freshman school year. Now, her mom Chelsi Stone is grateful she said yes.
“We will never be the same after this and we just don’t understand how this happened to our amazing, beautiful, smart, joyful girl,” Stone’s mother, Chelsi, said on Facebook, adding that one of Laci’s best friends also died in the crash. “Please pray for these families as well.”
Stone’s high school announced on social media that it would be canceling Wednesday’s softball game, saying the community was heartbroken over losing one of its own. Instead, dozens of people gathered on the field to pray.
Henrich Siemens, 38, and an unnamed 13-year-old boy were killed inside the other vehicle.
The University of the Southwest, a private Christian college in southeast New Mexico, said in a statement that counseling staff and a worship team would be available on campus following the crash.
“Please keep the families of students, coaching staff, and the USW community in your prayers as we come together to support one another during this difficult time,” the statement said.
In a statement on Facebook, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called the fatal crash “a terrible, tragic accident.”
She added: “As we await additional information from authorities, my prayers are with the community and the loved ones of all those involved.”
The golf teams were leaving a tournament in Midland, Texas, that included 11 teams. Midland College, the host of the tournament, announced that play on Wednesday would be cancelled.
The Texas Highway Patrol’s West Texas Region District Crash Team is investigating the crash with help from the National Transportation Safety Board.
The university has organized a donation page for the victims and their families.
Contributing: Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY; Claudia Silva, Carlsbad (N.M.) Current-Argus.; The Associated Press