NTSB: Dad, not 13-year-old, was driving truck that hit USW golf team’s van; had meth in system
A Texas man, not his 13-year-old son, was driving the pickup truck that crossed into the oncoming lane and struck a van carrying New Mexico college golfers, killing nine people, and he had methamphetamine in his system, investigators said Thursday.
The National Transportation Safety Board said two days after the March 15 collision that its preliminary findings suggested that the 13-year-old was driving the pickup that struck the van carrying University of the Southwest students and coaches back to New Mexico from a golf tournament.
But the NTSB said Thursday that DNA testing confirmed that the father, 38-year-old Henrich Siemens, was driving and that toxicological testing showed the presence of methamphetamine in Siemens’ blood.
"The driver of the pickup in this crash was a 38-year-old male and not the 13-year-old male as originally reported at the time of the crash," said NTSB Director Robert Molloy.
In a press conference on Thursday, Molloy explained that the severe damage to the vehicles and the fire the broke afterwards made it difficult for investigators to figure out what happened.
"Certainly, we know that meth can affect driver performance. We have seen this in the past," he said.
However, Molloy says it’s too early to say whether or not the drugs contributed to the crash itself.
RELATED: USW golf team members, head coach killed in West Texas crash
Siemens and his son died in the crash along with six members of the men’s and women’s golf teams and their coach.
The collision happened in Andrews County, which is about 30 miles east of Texas’ border with New Mexico. Although it’s a rural area, the roads there can often be busy with traffic related to agriculture and oil and gas development.
In the days after the crash, the NTSB had said that the truck’s left front tire blew before impact. But it said Thursday that so far, investigators haven’t found evidence of a loss in tire pressure or any other indicators that the tire failed.
The NTSB said the road they were traveling on consisted of a northbound lane and southbound lane. Near the crash site, the roadway was straight but there was no highway lighting.
Those killed in the van were coach Tyler James, 26, of Hobbs, New Mexico; and players Mauricio Sanchez, 19, of Mexico; Travis Garcia, 19, of Pleasanton, Texas; Jackson Zinn, 22, of Westminster, Colorado; Karisa Raines, 21, of Fort Stockton, Texas; Laci Stone, 18, of Nocona, Texas; and Tiago Sousa, 18, of Portugal.
Two other students aboard the van were seriously injured.
FOX 4 spoke to Gary Raines back in March, whose 21-year-old daughter, Karisa Raines, died in the crash.
"She was a girl that if you met her, you loved her," he said. "There was no loving or hating. It was you loved her."
Molloy says the victims’ family members were made aware of the new finding.
Jennifer Zinn, mother of 22-year-old Jackson Zinn told FOX 4 in reaction to the new developments, "We are ambivalent. Doesn’t really change anything."
Several questions remain unanswered, including how fast each vehicle was going, whether or not the passengers were wearing seat belts and whether or not the driver and 13-year-old were ejected from the pickup truck.
Molloy addressed one more correction: that the failure of the pickup truck’s front left tire was not the cause of the crash as originally reported.
"Our materials lab within that office did a comprehensive evaluation of that wheel," he said. "And based on their evaluation of the wheel, they found no evidence of a catastrophic failure."
The crash is still being investigated to determine the probable case of the crash, the NTSB said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.