Saturday 23 September 2017

Driver in fatal church bus crash 'admitted texting before collision'

The scene of the crash outside Garner State Park in northern Uvalde County, Texas (San Antonio Express-News/AP)
The scene of the crash outside Garner State Park in northern Uvalde County, Texas (San Antonio Express-News/AP)

The driver of a pick-up truck that collided with a church minibus in rural Texas, killing 13 people, apologised after the crash and acknowledged he had been texting while driving, according to a witness.

Jody Kuchler said he was driving behind the truck and had seen it moving erratically before the collision on Wednesday on a two-lane road about 75 miles west of San Antonio, near the town of Concan.

Mr Kuchler said the truck had crossed the centre line several times while he followed it.

He said he called the sheriff's offices for Uvalde and Real counties while he followed the truck and told them "they needed to get him off the road before he hit somebody".

Mr Kuchler said he witnessed the crash and spoke with the pick-up driver, who has been identified by the Texas Department of Public Safety as 20-year-old Jack Dillon Young, of Leakey, Texas.

"He said, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I was texting'. I said, 'Son, do you know what you just did?' He said, 'I'm sorry. I'm sorry'."

Officials have said the truck driver appeared to have crossed the centre line, and Jennifer Morrison, the investigator in charge of the team from the National Transportation Safety Board, said distracted driving will be among the issues investigated.

Young remains in hospital following the crash. Twelve people died at the scene, authorities said and another bus passenger died at a San Antonio hospital.

Texas is unusual in that it has no state-wide ban on texting while driving. Dozens of cities across the state prohibit the practice, but local ordinances may not have applied where Wednesday's crash occurred in a rural area.

Laws in 46 other states ban sending or reading email, using apps or engaging in other use of the internet while driving.

Texas's Republican-controlled legislature approved a state-wide ban in 2011 but it was vetoed by then governor Rick Perry, who characterised such prohibitions as government micromanagement and said educating drivers was the key to deterrence.

A similar proposal passed the Texas House a few weeks ago but has yet to make it to a Senate floor vote.

The number of motor vehicle deaths in the US last year topped 40,000 for the first time since 2007, according to the National Safety Council. The number of crash deaths in Texas rose 7% to 3,464, slightly higher than the national rise.

One in 10 driving fatalities in 2015 were caused by some kind of distraction, the US Department of Transportation said.

The death toll of the Texas crash was high despite the fact that most, if not all, of the occupants of the van were wearing seatbelts, Ms Morrison said. The driver and front passenger wore three-point lap-and-shoulder belts while those in the seats behind wore lap belts, she said.

The First Baptist Church of New Braunfels, Texas, said its members were returning from a three-day retreat at the Alto Frio Baptist Encampment in Leakey, about nine miles from the crash site.

The wreck occurred along a curve in the road where the speed limit is 65mph, according to officials.

AP

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