USW golf team crash: 13-year-old drove truck that struck van, leaving 9 dead

Federal safety investigators said a 13-year-old boy was driving the pickup involved in Tuesday’s head-on crash with a van carrying a New Mexico college golf team that killed nine people in West Texas.

The National Transportation and Safety Board also said the truck was running on a spare front tire that blew out.

The pickup hit a van carrying members of University of the Southwest golf team from New Mexico.

Seven people in the van died, along with the 13-year-old, whose name has not been released, and his passenger, 38-year-old Heinrich Siemens.

Federal investigators describe it as a "high speed collision" that killed 9 people.

"It was very clearly a high speed, head-on collision between two heavy vehicles," NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg said.

They are still reconstructing the crash, but revealed a child was driving the vehicle that caused the accident.

"A 13-year-old child was behind the wheel of the pickup truck," Landsberg said. "The remains were identified by the size. So, the Department of Public Safety made that determination."

RELATED: USW golf team members, head coach killed in West Texas crash

The NTSB also determined the pickup had a blowout before the wreck.

"It appears, at this point in the investigation, that the left front tire, which was a spare tire, had failed which resulted in the vehicle pulling hard to the left and crossing into the opposing lane," Landsberg said.

Landsberg said the posted speed limit was 75 miles per hour, but it’s still unclear how fast both vehicles were going. 

"We will be looking to download the vehicle recorders, if they’ve survived, and we’ll be able to know exactly," Landsberg explained.

NTSB investigators will spend the next several days in West Texas gathering evidence and interviewing witnesses. 

"We can say, with some degree of certainty, that quite a number of the bus passengers were not wearing seat belts," Landsberg said. "We also know that at least one of the bus passengers was ejected from the vehicle."

The latest development Thursday afternoon amid the ongoing grief and sorrow over the crash.

Chelsi Stone’s daughter, from Nocona, Texas, died in the crash.

"She always had a smile on her face, always bubbly just a great kid," Chelsi Stone said.

Laci Stone was a freshman who picked up golf and excelled at it quickly.

"She played when she was younger with her dad. He would go to the golf course and she would go with him, and in her sophomore year of high school, she got very serious," she recalled. "We know she had a great relationship with Jesus, so we know where she is which is helpful to us. That’s how she will be remembered, as our angel."

The family of 22-year-old Jackson Zinn, one of the team members killed, told FOX 4 that amidst their grief, they’re also confused about why a 13-year-old was driving that truck.

The Zinn family posted a statement on Facebook saying, in part, "To know Jackson was to know his sweet nature…He loved his family, loved golf and was true to his faith."

The mother of a freshman on the golf team, who was not on that trip to Midland, said her daughter is devastated over the loss of her teammates and doesn’t plan to return to the University of the Southwest.

She, along with families of the victims, are still trying to process learning that it was a 13-year-old boy driving the truck that crashed into the van carrying the team.

University of the Southwest officials spoke to reporters Thursday morning for the first time, expressing a collective feeling of sadness and gratitude for support.

"When we lose one, let alone seven, you can imagine what that’s like. If you lose seven of your family members in one accident, you can imagine what that’s like. That’s what it’s like for us," University of the Southwest Provost Dr. Ryan Tipton said. "Just an outpouring of support from our local community, not only our local community, but all across the country. We have large organizations reaching out to us, what can they do to help?"

Tipton said the university’s president spent the day in Lubbock with the families of Hayden Underhill and Dayton Price, the only two survivors.

He said Underhill and Price were stable at the hospital, but there is no timetable on when they could be released. Tipton added that one of them was even able to eat some chicken noodle soup.

Tipton said they have campus counselors and worship leaders available for students to talk to.

The university is on Spring Break this week. Classes will resume on Monday, and once students return, the school plans to hold an assembly to remember those they lost.