HOBBS, NM – More than 100 people gathered for a vigil on a green behind a dormitory at Southwestern University on 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 fondly remembered those who died. A cafeteria server remembered one of the victims, Mauricio Sanchez, as a bright light on campus. School football coach Edgar Negrete recalled bonding with golf coach Tyler James over video games. And soccer player Kimberly Nevarez has opened up about how much she misses her roommate, Jackson Zinn, known for his trademark dimples.
Briana Brock, a senior on the women’s soccer team, asked those gathered to turn to the school community for solace.
“A lot of us walk the same path,” she said of the long road trips from eastern New Mexico to western Texas. “It could have been any one of us. We all need to lean on God. …Lean on each other. That’s what we need.”
Due to high winds, students and faculty raised cellphone 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 into the air in silence until one person shouted, “We love you Mustangs!” — a reference to the school mascot.
Steve Appel, the university’s athletic director and head baseball coach, then asked everyone to huddle in the center of the green. The group of people, many of whom were wrapped tightly in blankets, counted to three and shouted in unison, “Family!”
“When you come home for the school holidays, you don’t miss the city. You miss the people,” Negrete said. “We’re all family. I love you all.”
The crash happened in West Texas, on a two-lane highway with a 75mph speed limit that winds past oil fields for dozens of miles between towns. A small memorial on the shoulder of this road, nailed against a barbed wire fence, stands at the crash site.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, a Dodge pickup truck driven by a 13-year-old traveling south on FM 1788 crossed the centerline after its left front tire – which the NTSB said was a spare – failed . Two people in the truck – Henrich Siemens, 38, and the unidentified child driver – also died.
The investigation is ongoing.
The college crash victims were James, 26, of Hobbs; Sanchez, 19, from 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, from Portugal.
There were also two survivors – Hayden Underhill, 20, and Dayton Price, 19, both from Canada. They remain hospitalized more than 100 miles northeast of Lubbock, Texas.
Earlier Monday, there was another vigil, in the form of a smaller ceremony with less than 20 people gathered outside the 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 over 300 students is approximately 95% student-athletes. Including those at a distance, the school has more than 1,000 students. The university is part of the Red River Athletic Conference and competes in the NAIA.