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Officials struggle to identify victims of Goliad wreck

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
July 24, 2012 at 2:24 a.m.
Updated July 26, 2012 at 2:26 a.m.

Lusia Castillo and her family felt a need to visit the site of Sunday's fatal wreck on U.S. 59 South, near Goliad. Paying their respects, the family fashioned handmade crosses for the 23 illegal immigrants from Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.

Nine people have yet to be identified from Sunday's one-vehicle wreck in Goliad that killed 15 illegal immigrants and injured eight.

DPS investigator Sgt. Jonathon Christian said his department has been unsuccessful in identifying many of those involved in the wreck because they did not have identification, and many of the survivors are in such critical conditions they are unable to speak, including the surviving children.

Of the 14 who have been identified, six are alive and eight are dead.

Two of the survivors have not been identified.

His team is using biometrics, such as fingerprinting and DNA matches, to help put a name to each face. The fingerprints are only useful to an extent, however, because they can only identify those with previous criminal records.

They are also using photos submitted by families who suspect their loved ones may have been involved in Sunday's wreck.

The names of identified victims will not be released, Christian said, until the families have been notified.

The death toll, initially at 11, has risen as the passengers who were riding in the 2000 Ford F-250 pickup continue to die.

The 15th victim died in a San Antonio hospital on Tuesday, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That victim was the fourth to have died in area hospitals since the wreck occurred about 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

Department of Public Safety Trooper Gerald Bryant said the driver of the extended cab pickup truck, Ricardo Mendoza-Pineda, 22, of Mexico, was carrying 22 Guatemalan and Honduran nationals north on U.S. Highway 59, heading for Houston.

Mendoza-Pineda was the only Mexican resident and was among the 11 people who died on impact when the truck struck two trees.

The right front tire appeared to have lost its tread about 300 yards before impact, about three miles south of Farm-to-Market Road 1351 on U.S. Highway 59.

Christian said they have determined the passengers in the vehicle were heading to Houston as a final destination.

Twelve of the deceased are men and three were women, including two girls about 8 and 10 years old.

The Mexican, Honduran, and Guatemalan consulates have been notified of the wreck, and are working to assist the families of the deceased and the survivors of the crash.

Carol Barahona, a Honduras Consulate agent, said her office has also been contacted by family members of the victims. Her office is in possession of several photos submitted by families.

"We're in the process of assisting the survivors and we're in contact with ICE, who gives us more information about the case," Barahona said. "We have people sending us a lot of photos, and we have three persons" we're helping to identify.

Barahona said many of the families contacting her with photos are already living in the United States.

Maria Ramirez, media liaison for the Mexican Consulate in Houston, said Tuesday they have not been able to reach Mendoza-Pineda's family, but they intend to help his family if they need assistance arriving in the United States, or shipping the body back to Mexico.

"We will get in touch with his family and offer support to take the body back to be buried, if that's what they want," Ramirez said. "There is a humanitarian visa they can get in case they need to come to identify the body in the U.S. If the family is already in the U.S., we can meet with them somewhere and we will make the arrangements to meet with them as well."

Officials from the Guatemalan Consulate were unavailable Tuesday and Wednesday.

Gregory Palmore, of ICE, would not comment on whether an investigation has been launched at the United States-Mexican border regarding those involved in the wreck.

He did not know where the truck would have crossed the border.

Bryant said the Ford F-250's tags were registered in Houston, but the registered owner of the truck said he had recently sold the vehicle.

Advocate reporter Caty Hirst contributed to this report.


You may read related coverage by clicking the links below:

Crosses mark memorial to illegal immigrants killed

Community pray for Goliad County crash victims

'Nobody deserves to die ...'

Death of 14 illegal immigrants a bipartisan tragedy

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

12 people killed, 11 injured in 1-vehicle crash in Goliad County

Goliad fatalities stir immigration reform conversation

Communities work together to aid, clean up Goliad fatal crash

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