GOLIAD, Texas - A human-smuggling operation turned tragic as a pickup truck carrying 23 people slammed into a tree. Eleven people died at the scene, and three more passed away at area hospitals, bringing the total to 14.
It happened along Highway 59 between Beeville and Goliad around 6:30 Sunday evening.
Investigators say none of the survivors are well enough to be interviewed about the accident, making it extremely difficult to identify the lives lost on that highway.
"It was pancaked up against that tree," Goliad Fire Chief Alonzo Morales says.
First responders say when the truck hit the embankment, the cab folded in half. The vehicle then hit the tree and the impact ejected most of the passengers.
"There's nothing really that can prepare you, going into it," Morales says.
Morales says his team triaged the passengers, and among the dead were some of the youngest.
"The children, the young people are always the toughest thing to handle," Morales says.
Now investigators must set aside emotions as they survey what's left of the Ford F-250.
"There may have been a tire failure, the right front tire of this vehicle," Lt. Glen Garrett with Texas Highway Patrol says. "It possibly had a de-tread, causing the vehicle to go off the road abruptly."
It's hard to imagine, but troopers believe about six people were seated in the cab while the other 17 were packed into the truck's bed.
"The victims that we have been able to identify are all going to be from Guatemala," Lt. Garrett says. "We believe that the driver is from Mexico."
As for the others: no papers, no identities - just a hodgepodge of belongings as proof of a journey that ended tragically.
"It's emotional to me," Morales says. "I've been in this business 32 years. Haven't seen an accident of this magnitude in my 32 years of service."
The accident is drawing comparisons to the horrible scene in nearby Victoria back in 2003 when nearly 20 illegal immigrants died in the back of a sweltering tractor-trailer.
Clues sought in IDs of Texas pickup crash victims
McALLEN, Texas (AP) — Investigators continue the difficult task of trying to identify 14 suspected illegal immigrants who were killed when a pickup truck packed with nearly two dozen people crashed in South Texas during an apparent smuggling run.
They're also looking for clues about who else might have been involved in the operations.
The men, women and children were carrying toothbrushes, toothpaste and changes of socks and underwear but no identifying documents.
Authorities said the white Ford F-250 was carrying 23 immigrants from Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala when it veered off a highway and crashed into trees Sunday night. The crash happened on a highway about 90 miles southeast of San Antonio and about 150 miles northeast of the Mexican border.