ANDREWS COUNTY, Texas — An investigation into a March crash that killed nine people, including six members of a golf team and their coach, is shining new light on what happened on that dark two-lane road.
On Thursday, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a preliminary report on the deadly crash. The report refuted several initial conclusions made about what happened, including who was driving the truck.
Initial reports indicate teen driver
On March 15, six college athletes and their coach from the University of the Southwest in New Mexico lost their lives after a crash in West Texas. The crash happened as the group was heading back from a golf tournament.
The crash happened when the driver of a Dodge 2500 pickup truck veered into the northbound lane and hit the team’s van head-on. Both vehicles caught fire after the crash.
Both pickup truck occupants, the coach, and six students in the van were fatally injured. The two remaining students in the van were seriously injured.
Two days later, the NTSB conducted an on-site briefing, where the vice chairman said a 13-year-old was driving at the time of the crash.
“A 13-year-old child was behind the wheel of the pickup truck,” Bruce Landsberg, vice chairman of NTSB, said during the March press conference. “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.”
Because a child must be 15 to receive a provisional license in Texas and 14 to begin taking courses, the 13-year-old driving would be breaking the law, according to The Associated Press.
DNA evidence shows different driver
As the investigation into the crash progressed, the NTSB used DNA evidence to try to confirm who was driving the truck at the time of the crash.
The Texas Department of Public Safety provided the results of DNA testing to the NTSB. Those results found it was not the 13-year-old behind the wheel. Instead, it was his 38-year-old father.
This discovery refuted the board’s on-scene briefing and highlighted the dangers of underage driving and differences in legal driving age by state.
Beyond the discovery that it was the father, not the son behind the wheel, the NTSB reports postcrash toxicological testing revealed the driver had methamphetamine in his system.
Blown tire theory disproved
During the initial on-site briefing, Landsberg also claimed that the crash happened after the truck’s front driver’s side tire, a spare tire, blew. The July investigation, however, found no evidence or indicators of a catastrophic failure of the tire.
The NTSB said all aspects of the crash remain under investigation while the board determines the probable cause of the crash and issues safety recommendations to prevent similar events.