NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg said preliminary information suggested the pickup’s left front tire was a faulty spare tire, causing the vehicle to yank to the left and into oncoming traffic on the two-lane road.
Landsberg said investigators were able to identify the driver’s body based on his size. He said both cars were likely traveling close to the posted speed limit of 75 mph.
Henrich Siemens, 38, of Seminole, Texas, was in the truck with the boy, authorities said. He was one of nine people killed in the crash Tuesday night.
Southwestern University provost Ryan Tipton said Thursday that students are recovering and making steady progress.
“One of the students was eating chicken soup,” Tipton told reporters. “I’ve talked to my parents and they’re with them and they’re recovering every day. It’s a race in inches and every hour brings them one step closer to another day … no sign Shows how long it will last but they are stable and recovering, making more and more progress every day.”
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), a Dodge 2500 pickup pulled into the approaching lane of a highway outside Andrews, Texas, and crashed into a vehicle carrying a University of New Mexico man and A Ford Transit van for members of the women’s golf team.
“The Dodge pickup pulled into the northbound lane and hit the Ford van head-on,” DPS Sgt. Steven Blanco said.
Six students and a coach in the van were killed, as were the pickup driver and a passenger. Two other golfers were initially in critical condition at the University of Texas Lubbock Medical Center, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The NTSB sent a team of 12 to investigate.
“It was clearly a high-speed frontal collision between two heavy vehicles,” Landsberg told reporters.
Landsberg said it was unclear why the full-scale spare part exploded before the crash.
“On the highway, 100 people (killed) every day,” he said. “Every two days, we’re causing the equivalent of a Boeing 737 crash. Think about it now. That’s what it’s about. We’re long overdue to start doing something about it.”
According to a recording on Broadcastify.com, which monitors radio communications between many emergency departments, dispatchers told emergency workers heading to the crash site that two vehicles were on fire with people trapped inside.
One of the first responders to arrive said: “All units, I have wrecked units on both sides of the highway, totally involving vehicles. I’m still trying to get to the scene and see what we have.”
CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said the weather in the crash area was clear with no fog. No freezing temperatures and winds around 5 to 8 mph.
‘Shattered and broken but mighty’
Southwestern University is dealing with an emotional toll on its community as investigators work to determine what caused the fatal collision.
“Our institution is crushed but strong,” Paula Smith, the university’s vice-chancellor for financial services, said on Thursday.
Many students at the small Christian university — about 1,100 students, including about 300 on campus — will return after spring break over the weekend, and the school plans to hold a memorial rally next week, according to Tipton, the provost.
“These are not things you even dream of happening. They shouldn’t happen,” he said.
Officials said they may never know what caused the pickup to veer into the van’s path, Tipton said.
“It’s the same feeling here for any of you who have lost a loved one or family,” he said. “They’re not just students and coaches. They’re our family. They’re family on our campus.”
“Laci’s golf team had an accident last night at a golf tournament. Our lovely Laci didn’t make it,” Laci’s mother Chelsi Stone said in a Facebook post. “Our Laci is gone! She was an absolute ray of sunshine in such a short time on earth.”
Luckey, 18, from Norcona, Texas, is one of three siblings.
“We won’t be the same after this, we just don’t understand how this can happen to our amazing, beautiful, smart, happy girl,” her mother said.
The school identified the other dead students as Mauricio Sanchez, 19, of Mexico; Travis Garcia, 19, of Pleasanton, Texas; and Jackson Zinn, 22, of Weiss, Colorado Minster; Karisa Raines, 21, from Fort Stockton, Texas; and Portuguese Tiago Sousa, 18.
USW President Quint Thurman has confirmed the death of 26-year-old coach Tyler James.
“Great coach and an amazing person,” Thurman said in an email. “Don’t make them better!”
James’ bio on the school’s website says he played golf at the University of Ottawa and Howard Payne in his first season as head coach.
“He always cared about us and made sure we played well both on and off the golf course,” said Philip Lopez, a freshman who didn’t play.
“I can’t believe my teammates and coaches are gone,” Lopez told CNN.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the driver of the pickup. According to the NTSB, it was a 13-year-old.
CNN’s Amanda Watts, Joe Sutton, Gregory Lemos, Andy Rose, Carroll Alvarado, Chris Boyette and Christine Sever contributed to this report.