Preliminary NTSB report: 13-year-old not driving pick-up in fatal crash

NTSB releases preliminary report on USW van crash
Published: Jul. 14, 2022 at 11:56 AM CDT
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ODESSA, Texas (KOSA) - The NTSB has now released its preliminary report on the van crash that killed 9 people in March.

“On behalf of all of us at NTSB, I’d like to offer my deepest sympathies to those that were affected by this tragedy,” Robert Malloy, Director of the Office of Highway Safety, said in a news conference this afternoon.

The report states at about 8:17 p.m., a head-on crash happened between a southbound 2007 Dodge 2500 pickup truck and a northbound 2017 Ford transit van (towing a 2019 Salvation single-axle, enclosed cargo trailer) on FM 1788 at mile marker 10.547, approximately 0.72 miles north of State Highway 115 in Andrews County, Texas. The posted speed limit in this area was 75 mph.

In the pickup truck were a driver and a passenger; the van was occupied by a college golf team consisting of a 26-year-old male coach and eight team members from the University of the Southwest, located in Hobbs, New Mexico. The van was returning to Hobbs from a golf tournament in Midland, Texas when the pickup truck crossed into the northbound lane and collided head-on with the van.

Initially, the NTSB had reported that a tire failure was the cause of the accident.

“That left front tire that was talking about was the one that took the most damage,” Malloy said. “We then had the wheel to our NTSB Research and Engineering Lab and our materials lab within that office did a comprehensive analysis of that wheel and based on their evaluation of that wheel they found no evidence of catastrophic failure.”

Both vehicles caught on fire and were destroyed. (See figure 1.) 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.

DNA testing results provided to the NTSB by the Texas Department of Public Safety have confirmed the identity of the driver of the pickup truck as the 38-year-old male, correcting initial reports that the 13-year-old male passenger had been operating the truck at the time of the crash. In addition to the DNA test results, NTSB postcrash toxicological testing revealed the presence of methamphetamine in the pickup truck driver’s blood.

“This was a very high energy collision,” Malloy said. “Where the railroad speed was 75 MPH and the primary impact direction was head-on. As a result of that, there was a lot of catastrophic damage to the vehicle.”

Malloy also mentioned a post-crash fire making finding some of the details of the crash difficult. The decision that the 13-year-old was driving was made by a team upon the initial investigation.

“This was a very difficult investigation to determine some of the facts,” Malloy said. “Based on the catastrophic damage and the post-crash fire. However, based upon the review of the crash scene the team worked together and came up with conscious that the driver was the 13-year-old based upon evidence that they had at the time.”

In the area of the collision, FM 1788 consisted of one northbound and one southbound travel lane, each approximately 12 feet wide. Raised pavement markers were spaced at 40-foot intervals along the painted centerline. The raised pavement markers, which had reflectorized surfaces on both sides, were intended to augment the lane markings delineating the travel lanes. Near the crash location, the roadway was straight, and no highway lighting was installed. (See figure 2.)


Figure 1. Damage to pickup truck (left) and transit van (right) from impact and postcrash fire.

Figure 2. Southbound view of FM 1788 showing the north- and southbound lanes near the crash...
Figure 2. Southbound view of FM 1788 showing the north- and southbound lanes near the crash site, and the locations of the transit van and pickup truck at final rest.(NTSB)

Working with the NTSB investigation are the following parties:

  • Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
  • Texas Department of Transportation
  • Texas Department of Public Safety

To date, the investigation has not found evidence of a sudden or rapid loss of tire air pressure or any other indicators of catastrophic failure of the pickup truck’s front left tire. However, all aspects of the crash remain under investigation while the NTSB determines the probable cause, with the intent of issuing safety recommendations to prevent similar events.

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