Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

9 dead in crash involving students at New Mexico college | Ap

A pickup truck crossed the center line of a two-lane road in Andrews County, about 30 miles east of the New Mexico state line, and crashed into the van, which had been carrying members of the men’s and women’s golf teams from the University of the Southwest in Hobbs, said Sgt. Steven Blanco of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The truck was carrying a 13-year-old boy, who also died, along with the driver.

The golf team was traveling in a 2017 Ford Transit van that was towing a box trailer when it collided with the truck, and both vehicles burst into flames, National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Eric Weiss said.

Chelsi Stone, whose 18-year-old daughter, Laci, was among those killed, said she wouldn’t wish the pain she was feeling on her worst enemy. She described the University of the Southwest freshman as a ray of sunshine and told a story about how the teen had begged her to get tiny matching heart tattoos.

“I’m so forever grateful that God gave me the courage to go through with it and always have this memory with her,” Chelsi Stone wrote on her Facebook page. “We will appreciate every prayer we can get and we love you all.”

Laci Stone graduated in 2021 from Nocona High School in Texas, where she played golf, volleyball and softball. Her 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.

The other victims included golf coach Tyler James, 26, of Hobbs; junior Karisa Raines, 21, of Fort Stockston, Texas; Jackson Zinn, 22, a junior from Westminster, Colo.; freshman Travis Garcia, 19, of Pleasanton, Texas; Mauricio Sanchez, 19, of Mexico; and Tiago Sousa, 18, of Portugal.

Critically injured aboard the van were Canadian students Dayton Price, 19, of Mississauga, Ontario, and Hayden Underhill, 20, of Amherstview, Ontario. Both were taken by helicopter to the University Medical Center in Lubbock, about 110 miles to the northeast.

Authorities identified the pickup truck driver that collided with the team’s van as Heinrich Siemens, 38, of Seminole, Texas. Police have not yet released the name of the deceased boy traveling with him.

Authorities said James was driving the students back to New Mexico on Tuesday night following a golf tournament at Midland College, about 315 miles west of Dallas, when the crash happened. Those who knew him said it had been his goal to be a head coach, and he was excited to be there.

“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.

James graduated from ETBU in May with a Master of Science in kinesiology. While there, he had been the graduate assistant coach for the golf program.

Erwin said James had not only a love for coaching, but for mentoring students as well.

After the beginning of his college career playing golf at Ottawa University in Kansas, he transferred to Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, according to his biography on the University of the Southwest website.

Troy Drummond, Howard Payne University’s head golf coach and associate athletic director for operations, said James played for three years at Howard Payne and helped coach the team his last year.

“He had a passion for golf, you could tell that from the very start. He’d pretty much eat, sleep and drink golf,” Drummond said.

Drew Underhill, Hayden’s older brother, said his parents were on a plane headed for Texas so they could be with his brother. Hayden Underhill was going to school on a golf scholarship.

“Hockey was a big part of life for a while, but his true passion is golf,” his brother said. “He loves golf. His favorite is Jordan Spieth. And he always loved to watch Jordan, follow Jordan.”

Friends of Raines, who was a biology student, started a fundraising page for her family. They described her as “as a beautiful and kind soul who will be deeply missed by everyone.”

The University of the Southwest is a private, Christian college.

Aside from golf, what tied the teammates and their families together was their faith. Social media pages were inundated Wednesday with a steady stream of offerings of prayers and condolences from fellow college golfers, community members and others.

A short drive from the campus, local golfers set up a memorial at the course where the team practice. Groundskeepers placed flowers, golf balls and a hand-made sign with a Christian cross and the initials, etc.

“We have a memorial. It’s the very least we could to for the players and of course coach James,” said Rockwind Community Links Manager Ben Kirkes. “It’s a tough time.”

Kirkes said he saw the team members nearly every day, and was close with them.

“These kids were great kids and they were great, great community members,” he said. “They were polite and they were just a pleasure to be around.”

He knew many of the kids were from overseas, and tried to make it a welcome place for them.

University President Quint Thurman said in a statement, “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.”

The university said on Twitter that counseling and religious services would be available on campus.

Midland College said Wednesday’s tournament 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. “We were all shocked to learn of this tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers are with USW as they grieve this terrible loss.”

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said on Facebook that she was “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.

Associated Press writers Jamie Stengle and Susan Montoya Bryan contributed to this report.

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