NTSB: 13-year-old was driving truck that hit USW van

A 13-year-old boy was behind the wheel of the Dodge truck that hit the van carrying members of the University of the Southwest golf teams Tuesday in Andrews County, according to an official with the National Transportation Safety Board.

NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg said during a press conference Thursday that a “13-year-old child” was behind the wheel when the truck crossed the centerline of Farm-to-Market Road 1788, a half-mile north of State Highway 115, east of the city of Andrews.

The NTSB also reported that the front left tire of the truck had “failed,” which “resulted in the vehicle pulling hard to the left and crossing into the opposite lane.” The blowout was to a spare tire, which NTSB officials said was a full-size spare not a “donut” as is common in smaller vehicles.

The University of the Southwest golf teams were traveling back to Hobbs, New Mexico, from a tournament in Midland when the collision took place at 8:17 p.m. The NTSB reported that the 11-person passenger van was towing an 8-foot cargo trailer.

Nine people died in what the NTSB said “was clearly a high-speed collision,” including six players and the coach of University of the Southwest golf teams. Two other golf team members were transported to Lubbock with injuries.

The passenger in the pickup was identified as Henrich Siemens, 38, of Seminole. The name of the driver of the pickup – the 13-year-old boy -- will not be released at this time.

A person must be 14 in Texas to start taking classroom courses for a learner’s license and 15 to receive that provisional license to drive with an instructor or licensed adult in the vehicle. Department of Public Safety Sgt. Victor Taylor said a 13-year-old driving would be breaking the law.

“The carnage on our highways exceeds any other mode of transportation,” Landsberg said. “In no other mode would we tolerate 100-plus fatalities each and every day.

“Thousands more will have suffered life-altering injuries, including severe burns, amputations and so forth, which we do not want to minimize. So, we think it's high time that we started to take our driving a bit more seriously than what it is.”

NTSB officials said “with some degree of certainty” that quite a number of the passengers in the van were not wearing seatbelts.

“We also know at least one of the bus passengers was ejected from the vehicle,” Landsberg said.

Landsberg stated National Transportation Safety Board is an independent agency and its task is to investigate all types of transportation accidents, aviation, highway, marine, rail and pipeline to come up with the probable cause and to make recommendations to the regulatory agencies to prevent the recurrence.

“Our preliminary report will be available in two to three weeks,” he said. “And we will take about three months to gather additional data and then there will be an in-depth analysis of all of this. Final report and probable cause (will come out) somewhere between 12 and 18 months.”

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