NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas — Authorities in two Texas counties said they received phone calls about a pickup driving erratically shortly before a collision between a truck and church bus in southwest Texas that killed 13 people returning from a retreat.
One man called the dispatch line just past noon Wednesday to report that a white Dodge pickup was swerving on the road, Uvalde police Lt. Daniel Rodriguez said Thursday.
“(The caller) was scared (the pickup driver) was going to cause an accident and asked us to send deputies,” Rodriguez said. “Deputies were dispatched, but before they could reach the area, the same caller called 911 to report that the truck had been in an accident.”
Dispatchers in Real County received a call from a woman who reported a truck was driving erratically on U.S. 83, county Constable Nathan Johnson said. Real County officials called Uvalde County officials to co-ordinate a response to send deputies. Then, the woman called back and said the truck that had been driving erratically had struck another vehicle before reaching Real County, Johnson said.
“Unfortunately, he struck a motor vehicle before anyone could respond,” he said.
The Texas Department of Public Safety refused to speculate about what caused the head-on collision between a pickup and a small church bus near the town of Concan, although one spokesman said the truck driver appeared to have crossed the centre line.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators on Thursday to start looking into the crash, which occurred about 12:25 p.m. outside Garner State Park, about 75 miles (120 kilometres) west of San Antonio.
The wreck occurred along a curve in the road where the speed limit is 65 mph, DPS Sgt. Orlando Moreno said.
Twelve bus passengers and driver Murray William Barrett, 67, died at the scene, DPS Lt. Johnny Hernandez said. Another bus passenger died at a San Antonio hospital. The pickup driver, Jack Dillon Young, 20, of Leakey, Texas, was still in stable condition and the lone survivor from the bus remained in critical condition Thursday night, DPS said.
“These are individuals we’ve sat next to and had dinner with and laughed with and cried with and worshipped with,” Brad McLean, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of New Braunfels, Texas, said Thursday. “They were part of our church family.”
He added, “I think it’s the everyday interaction and relationship that has been built that, boy, those are the things that really will affect us a week from now, a month from now, a year from now.”
Ten of the people killed in the crash were from New Braunfels, according to DPS, and they ranged in age from 61 to 87. They were part of a larger group of 65 people who attended the church retreat, with most taking their own cars for the getaway.
The fronts of the church bus and the pickup were heavily damaged in the wreck. And the bus was backed up onto a guardrail, with glass and debris scattered around.
DPS Sgt. Conrad Hein said the small bus was a 2004 Turtle Top, though he did not know the specific model. Turtle Top’s website features shuttle buses with capacities ranging from 17 to 51 passengers, which they bill as “a great alternative to the standard 15-passenger van.” Safety concerns have long surrounded the 15-passenger vans, which are frequently used by churches and other groups, with advocates saying they can be difficult to control in an emergency.
The San Antonio-area church said on its website that the members were returning from a three-day retreat at the Alto Frio Baptist Encampment in Leakey, about 9 miles (15 kilometres) from the crash site. Counselors were made available Thursday at the church.
The collision was one of the deadliest in Texas in recent memory. Eight people were killed in May when a charter bus headed to a casino rolled over north of Laredo. In 2015, eight inmates and two corrections officers were killed when their prison bus skidded off a highway near Odesa, travelled down an embankment and was struck by a passing freight train.
Seventeen people died in 2008 when a charter bus crashed in North Texas near the Oklahoma border, and 23 nursing home residents being evacuated from the Houston area as Hurricane Rita approached in 2005 were killed when their charter bus caught fire near Dallas.