One year later, the USW van crash

USW 1st Anniversary
Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 4:31 PM CDT
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ANDREWS COUNTY, Texas (KOSA) - One year ago today, a van carrying the University of the Southwest men’s and women’s golf team was involved in a head-on crash on FM 1788 and Highway 115 in Andrews County.

A tight-knit community rocked in one night.

Nine people were lost that night: Tyler James, Mauricio Sanchez, Travis Garcia, Jackson Zinn, Karissa Raines, Laci Stone, Tiago Sousa, Henrich Siemens, and his 13-year-old son.

Another two people were seriously injured, Dayton Price and Hayden Underhill.

“Some of the days I don’t even remember,” said Chelsi Stone, mother of victim Laci Stone. “Some days I feel like it just happened.”

The team was traveling home, thinking about what the next day would bring, a golf tournament, school or work. Instead, the next day was one of mourning and remembering the lives and accomplishments of the USW golf team.

The team was competing in a tournament at the Ranchland Hills Golf Course in Midland, and driving back to Hobbs, New Mexico.

“To know that those young kids were out here doing what they loved,” said Jeremy Langdale, Ranchland Hills general manager. “Going to college for what they loved, it was their last day playing golf.”

The team and its coaches were remembered the next day. Tony Fetters, a former teammate of Coach Tyler James said, ”[He was] always battling, always competing he was one of those people who loved competing.”

“Whatever she was doing, she was the one people looked up to, and she was that positive role model for everybody,” said Heather Nobile, a family friend of Laci Stone. “She’s going to be missed, she was a wonderful person.”

That night family members waited for answers. Some parents just across the state of Texas or a state away in New Mexico. Some parents in other countries. Hayden Underhill is from Amherstview Ontario, Canada. Dayton Price is from Mississauga Ontario, Canada. Mauricio Sanchez was from Mexico. Tiago Sousa was from Portugal.

Family, loved ones, across the world, all waiting on a devastating phone call.

“It was a long night,” Stone said. “When we finally got a call that yes there was an accident but we weren’t told exactly what happened and we didn’t know if she was one of the ones that passed away or not.”

By the end of the night, the Stone family received another call. Laci was killed in the crash.

Other players on the golf team were at the university, waiting on their teammates to return to campus.

“I was pretty scared that night, it was just me, my teammate Johnny, and my teammate Justin were in the dorm room when we found out,” said Phillip Lopez a sohpomore on the USW men’s golf team. “It just felt weird being there and knowing they weren’t coming back. Then just when I was by myself in my room it just felt, never felt so lonely and scared in my life.”

The golf community in Southeast New Mexico and the Permian Basin came together to comfort each other one year ago.

“When you’re on a team, it sort of becomes a second family -- regardless of how far removed you are from the team, that’s still family,” said former USW golfer Allie Etier. “So I wanted to just organize our alumni together so we could help say to these kids ““Hey, you’re not feeling this by yourself.””

And they are still lifting up the loved ones of the victims one year later.

“If you golf you feel like you know each other,” said Stone. “You’re just best friends. Anybody on the golf course can get along with anybody.”

This month the Rockwind Golf Course, the home course for the University of the Southwest, hosted its second benefit for the families of the team. Last year the Swing Fore Nine tournament raised over $150,000.

This year even more people attended to play the game the team loves.

“She was a good golfer, and she was better than she thought she was,” said Gary Raines father of victim Karissa Gaines. “But she had a passion for the game.”

Through the tournament, and through beloved memories, the USW golf team will never forget their teammates.

Halie Cruz, a sophomore member of the women’s team said, “We’re literally like oh Jackson, oh Karissa, Laci, all them, we’re like oh they did such and such on this hole. We’re even at different tournaments and we still think of them.”

The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report found the pickup truck veered over into the wrong lane and hit the USW van head-on.

Both vehicles caught fire.

In the first week after the crash, NTSB investigators reported the 13-year-old was driving the truck and a front tire failure caused the accident. However, after more research and DNA testing, The NTSB says the 13-year-old was not driving but instead Heinrich Siemens was driving. And there was no evidence of a tire failure.

NTSB toxicology texting found methamphetamine in the driver’s blood.

The Swing Fore Nine Memorial Golf Tournament is an annual event. The money raised goes to a scholarship fund for young golfers in southeast New Mexico and the Permian Basin.

You can donate here.

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