The driver of a pickup that collided with a church minibus in Uvalde County, killing 13 members of a church in New Braunfels, apologized after the crash and acknowledged he had been texting while driving, a witness said Friday.
Jody Kuchler told The Associated Press he was driving behind the truck and had seen it moving erratically prior to the Wednesday collision on a two-lane road about 75 miles west of San Antonio, near the town of Concan. Kuchler said the truck had crossed the center line several times while he followed it.
Kuchler said he witnessed the crash, and then he checked on both the bus and the truck and was able to speak with the pickup’s driver, who has been identified by the Texas Department of Public Safety as 20-year-old Jack Dillon Young of the nearby town of Leakey.
“He said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I was texting.’ I said, “Son, do you know what you just did? He said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’” Kuchler quoted the pickup driver as saying.
DPS Sgt. Conrad Hein declined to comment Friday on the cause of the crash or if texting might have played a role. But officials have said the pickup’s driver appeared to have crossed the center line.
Twelve people died at the scene and another bus passenger died at a San Antonio hospital, authorities said. The sole surviving bus passenger, Rose Mary Harris, 64, of New Braunfels, was taken to San Antonio Military Medical Center, where she was in critical condition.
Young also remains hospitalized.
Kuchler said he called the sheriff’s offices for both Uvalde and Real counties while he followed the truck.
In a 911 call to the Real County sheriff’s office obtained by the American-Statesman, Kuchler can be heard telling a dispatcher that the pickup was heading north toward Concan and was “all over the road.”
“He’s going to hit somebody head on or he’s going to kill his own damn self. Somebody needs to get this guy off the road,” Kuchler said in the call.
Kuchler called about 12:07 p.m., about 20 minutes before the crash.
Real County Constable Nathan Johnson said that a woman also called the county’s dispatch to report a truck was driving erratically in the same area shortly before the accident. The same woman also called back to report the wreck.
The National Transportation Safety Board has sent investigators to look into the crash.
“We’ll be looking at drivers of both vehicles – whether there was fatigue, distraction, impairment; the mechanical condition of the vehicles; the highway they were operating on; and the driveability and crash-worthiness of the bus,” safety board investigator Jennifer Morrison said Friday.
The bus was equipped with seat belts, Morrison said. The driver and front-seat passenger had typical three-point seat belts; all other passengers had lap belts, she said. It isn’t yet clear if the bus passengers were wearing seat belts.
The wreck occurred along a curve in the road where the speed limit is 65 mph, according to DPS officials.
The First Baptist Church of New Braunfels said its members were returning from a three-day retreat at the Alto Frio Baptist Encampment in Leakey, about 9 miles from the crash site.