HOBBS, NM — More than 100 people gathered for a vigil on a putting green behind a University of the Southwest dorm Monday night and remembered the seven members of the men’s and women’s golf teams who were killed in a two-vehicle crash on a West Texas highway last Tuesday.
Several people emotionally recalled those who died. A cafeteria server remembered one of the victims, Mauricio Sanchez, as a bright light on campus. The school’s soccer coach, Edgar Negrete, recalled bonding with golf coach Tyler James over video games. And soccer player Kimberly Nevarez spoke of how dearly she missed her roommate, Jackson Zinn, who was known for his trademark dimples.
Briana Brock, a senior on the women’s soccer team, directed those gathered to turn inward to the school community for consolation.
« A lot of us travel that same path, » she said of long road trips from eastern New Mexico through West Texas. « It could have been any one of us. We all need to lean on God. … Let’s lean on each other. That’s what we need. »
Because of the whipping winds, students and faculty raised cell-phone flashlights rather than candles to light up the New Mexico sky in memory of the seven who died. Baseball player AJ Cordova led the assembled group in a countdown from five. Cell phones were lifted in the air in silence until one person yelled, « We love you, Mustangs! » — a reference to the school’s mascot.
Steve Appel, the university’s athletic director and head baseball coach, then asked everyone to huddle in the center of the putting green. The group of people, many of whom wrapped themselves tightly in blankets, counted to three and in unison yelled, « Family! »
« When you go home for school breaks, you don’t miss the town. You miss the people, » Negrete said. « We’re all family. I love you all. »
The crash took place in remote West Texas, on a two-lane highway with a speed limit of 75 mph that rolls past oilfields for dozens of miles between towns. A small memorial off the shoulder of that road, tacked up against a barbed-wire fence, sits at the crash site.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, a Dodge pickup driven by a 13-year-old traveling southbound on FM 1788 crossed the center line after its left front tire — which the NTSB said was a spare — failed. Two people in the truck — 38-year-old Henrich Siemens and the unidentified child driver — also died.
The investigation is ongoing.
The crash victims from the university were James, 26, of Hobbs; Sanchez, 19, of Mexico; Zinn, 22, of Westminster, Colorado; Travis Garcia, 19, of Pleasanton, Texas; Karissa Raines, 21, of Fort Stockton, Texas; Laci Stone, 18, of Nocona, Texas; and Tiago Sousa, 18, of Portugal.
There were also two survivors — Hayden Underhill, 20, and Dayton Price, 19, both of Canada. They remain hospitalized more than 100 miles to the northeast in Lubbock, Texas.
Earlier Monday, there was another vigil, as a smaller ceremony with fewer than 20 people gathered in front of Lea County Courthouse in Lovington, New Mexico. USW provost Ryan Tipton said there are preliminary plans for more memorials next week.
The private school’s on-campus population of 300-plus students is made up of about 95% student-athletes. When including those remotely, the school has more than 1,000 students. The university is part of the Red River Athletic Conference and competes in the NAIA.