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23 immigrants packed into a pickup: 'Nobody deserves to die ...'

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
July 22, 2012 at 2:22 a.m.
Updated July 23, 2012 at 2:23 a.m.

A Ford F-250 pickup crashed into a tree in Goliad County near the Bee County line, killing 14 and injuring 9 more.

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GOLIAD -- At The Tote convenience store on U.S. Highway 59, known colloquially as the Goliad Walmart "Town Hub," Kori Gonzalez cashes out two customers.

Since 5 a.m. Monday, Gonzalez said shoppers were abuzz with questions about Sunday's one-vehicle wreck that killed 14 people and injured nine on the same highway about eight miles away.

"We're the midway point between Laredo and Houston, so we get a lot of people who stop here. Most people want to know how there were so many people in that one vehicle," said Gonzalez, a Goliad native. "The people who live around here, though, aren't really surprised by it."

Gregory Palmore, of the Office of Public Affairs - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, confirmed Monday that all 23 passengers in the 2000 Ford F-250 truck originated from Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, each suspected by ICE officials to be illegal immigrants. Of the 14 people who died, 11 were men and three were women.

Victor Corzo, of the Mexican Consulate, said there was one Mexican resident in the group, and he was among the deceased.

The identities are yet unknown, but Adrian Fulton of the Victoria Mortuary and Cremation Service, said the ages of those killed range from about 8 to about 25 years old. Two of the deceased are girls about 8 and 10, he said.

"It's the worst single motor vehicle accident I've ever seen in my life," said Fulton, who is in possession of the 11 people who died at the scene, located about three miles south of Farm-to-Market Road 1351 on U.S. Highway 59. "We deal with this on a regular basis, but I was shocked when I found out there were 10 fatalities. I called the sheriff's office to confirm before we went out there ... none have been identified."

Fulton said he required five vehicles and six employees to assist with collecting the bodies from the scene. They were found with minimal personal items, such as a tooth brush and toothpaste, but little else, he said.

"It could take weeks to identify them," he said.

After initial examinations of the bodies, Fulton said most suffered broken limbs and other trauma from being ejected. The six who died from the inside of the cab were crushed and may have bled internally. There were no large lacerations.

He will hold the bodies until the families are contacted and plans are made about transporting them home. If no one claims them, Victoria County will be responsible for handling funeral services, he said.

The driver of the extended-cab pickup truck, who was one of the 11 who died on impact, was heading toward Goliad and struck a tree, Department of Public Safety troopers said.

The right front tire appeared to have lost its tread about 300 yards before impact, which occurred about 6:30 p.m. Sunday. The driver veered to the right side of the road and crashed into the trees, said DPS Lt. Glen Garrett.

The highway's speed limit is 75 mph. Garrett said the truck would likely have been traveling at least that fast.

Of the 11 who died at the scene, six were inside the cab and five were killed after they were ejected from the bed of truck, said Trooper Gerald Bryant. Three additional passengers later died in area hospitals.

The top of the extended-cab pickup truck had to be cut away by firefighters from Goliad and Beeville. More than 40 emergency responders assisted with the wreck.

The 12 initially injured were taken to DeTar Hospital Navarro in Victoria and to hospitals in Beeville, San Antonio and Corpus Christi.

As of 9 p.m Monday, nine of the 23 passengers were still alive.

"I know why they want to come here; they want a better life, but they need to do it the legal way," Gonzalez said. "They need to stay here and get the help they need, and then if they want to stay here permanently, they should try to go through the legal system and apply for a green card."

Tote employee, Shirley Frick, agreed with Gonzalez, but said if she were desperate enough to make a better life for herself and her children in another country, she may consider drastic measures to achieve it.

"They should do it legally, but if I were in their shoes, I'd be doing the same thing," she said. "It was really sad last night when I was working here. I had chill bumps the whole time because it was right down the road."

The Rev. Stan De Boe, of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Victoria, has offered to provide funeral services for the deceased if the families prefer for them to be buried in the United States.

He has also contacted Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor, as well as Fulton to volunteer his ministerial services for anyone who may need counseling or prayer.

"I think we need to be aware of the plight of the migrants, and recognize there are those who are coming here for economic opportunities and those who are coming through with crime, and drug smuggling," he said. Those who died in the wreck were "not coming here to disrupt our society."

Homeland Security Investigations is providing assistance to DPS and the Goliad County Sheriff's Office. HSI was working Monday to identify the bodies at Victoria Mortuary Service.

"It's really unbelievable and sad. Nobody deserves this. Nobody deserves to die, no matter how you feel about immigration," Gonzalez said.

The Advocate's Carolina Astrain contributed to this report.

You can read the updates to this story by clicking the links below:

Death of 14 illegal immigrants a bipartisan tragedy

DPS trooper ranks Goliad wreck as deadliest in his 38-year career

Death toll in Goliad crash rises to 15

Community prays for Goliad County crash victims (video)

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