U.S. 59 Wreck

The Ford F-250 that was involved in Saturday’s fatal crash on U.S. 59 is towed from the scene.

Investigators think some occupants were not wearing seat belts when their van crashed on a Victoria County highway over the weekend, killing five people inside the van.

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“We can determine there were unrestrained passengers in the van, which contributed to injuries,” said Sgt. Ruben San Miguel, spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety. “As we get further, we are going to be able to tell more and more.”

As with any fatal crash, San Miguel said, investigators will pore over details in an attempt to recreate the collision, analyzing details from the tread depth and pressure of tires to the backgrounds and personal histories of everyone involved.

Saturday morning, a van carrying 10 Brownsville residents rear-ended a tractor-trailer, lost control and struck a Ford F-250 head-on while on U.S. 59 North near the intersection of U.S. 59 Business just west of Telferner.

San Miguel said he was unsure how fast the van was driving but noted the speed limit there is 75 mph. He said investigators would seek that information and much more as they continue their work.

“Those kinds of impacts are very significant at those speeds,” he said.

The occupants of the van were traveling to Galveston, where they hoped to begin a cruise vacation. San Miguel said the crashed van was driving with another van that was carrying additional friends and family.

Occupants inside the van who were pronounced dead at the scene were Brownsville residents Nora Gabriela Chavez, 42; Oscar Chavez, 45; Adrian Leal Rodriguez, 47; Camila Rodriguez, 13; and Sebastian Rodriguez, 6.

The F-250’s occupants, Oscar Daniel Garza, 55, and Anna Lee Bettancourt, 51, were taken to Citizens Medical Center with injuries and released.

Dennis Lee Harridge, the 58-year-old driver of the tractor-trailer, was the only person involved who did not suffer injuries.

Although a crash report must be filed within 10 days, a more in-depth investigation could take two months, he said.

At this early stage of the investigation, investigators have few details to release, San Miguel said. Nevertheless, he said intoxication did not appear to be a contributing factor in the crash.

“We have barely scratched the surface,” he said.

Jon Wilcox reports on courts for the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached jwilcox@vicad.com or 361-580-6515.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

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