On Sunday evening, a truck accident in southern Texas left fifteen people dead and nine others seriously injured. NBC News reports that 23 passengers were crammed into a Ford F-250 when the truck ran off the road and struck a twin-trunked tree on U.S. 59 in Goliad County. Federal officials believe the occupants of the vehicle were illegal immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. However, officials have not yet identified all the passengers in the vehicle because many were not carrying I.D.
The accident happened about 150 miles northeast of the Mexican border: authorities say this stretch of highway is a popular route for illegal immigrants trying to travel north. "We suspect at this time it is going to be illegal immigrants that were in the vehicle, based on the way they were traveling," Lt. Glen Garret of the Texas Department of Public Safety told Reuters. The incredibly large number of passengers in the pickup contributed to the severity of the accident: five or six passengers rode in the cab, while the rest were lying on top of each other in the truck's bed. Many people were ejected from the vehicle upon impact: one passenger was found nearly sixty feet from the truck.
Many emergency responders were shocked by the brutal aftermath of the wreck, according to My San Antonio. "It's certainly disturbing when you walk up and see the yellow and blue blankets that you know are covering victims, and realize that there are still five or six bodies in the vehicle because it's so badly damaged that they can't get them out," said Goliad County Judge David Bowman, who pronounced 11 people dead at the scene, including the truck's driver. Four more passengers have since died as a result of their injuries, and the others remain hospitalized, many in critical condition.
Investigators believe that a tire problem - specifically, front right tire separation - played a key role in the crash, causing the driver to lose control of the truck and leave the roadway. Speed is also a likely contributing factor: the pickup was traveling at an estimated 70-75 miles per hour when it struck the large tree.
Of the dead, eleven men and three women were found to be citizens of Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. The driver of the vehicle was born in Mexico, but had become a naturalized citizen of the United States. The truck's owner, however, was not in the vehicle: he has been notified, and claims to have sold the truck. At present, investigators are focused on identifying all the occupants of the pickup.
When an overloaded vehicle crashes, the outcome can be especially deadly. Without proper seatbelts and room to safely accommodate occupants, any accident becomes more dangerous - and the potential for injuries and fatalities increases. Drivers should take special care to avoid loading a vehicle with more occupants than it can transport safely.