The driver of a pickup truck that collided with a church bus in Texas on Wednesday, killing 13 people, may have been texting in the moments leading up to the crash, according to a witness who was at the scene.
Jody Kuchler was driving with his girlfriend along US Highway 83, a rural stretch of highway about 75 miles west of San Antonio, when he witnessed a truck swerve erratically into oncoming traffic several times.
While his girlfriend filmed the truck on her phone, Kuchler made several calls to local sheriffs' departments to urge police to get the driver off the road.
"Somebody needs to get this guy off the road," Kuchler said, according to 911 audio obtained by KSAT. "He's going to hit somebody head on or he's going to kill his own damn self. Somebody needs to get this guy off the road."
In the aftermath of the accident, Kuchler said he spoke to the driver, who apologized and admitted that he had been texting while driving.
"He said, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I was texting,'" Kuchler recalled. "I said, 'Son, do you know what you just did?'"
Federal and state investigators declined to comment on the account Friday. But officials with the National Board of Transportation Safety said that distracted driving would be among the issues considered as the agency investigates the causes of the accident. Texas does not have a statewide ban on texting while driving.
"We are in the early stages of this investigation," NTSB spokesman Terry Williams told BuzzFeed News. "Any distractions by either driver is part of our investigation." He estimated that the federal probe into the crash would take about a year to complete.
The bus had been carrying members of the First Baptist New Braunfels Church returning from a retreat at a nearby camp. Of the 14 passengers, 12 died at the scene, and another succumbed to their injuries Wednesday evening at a hospital. The sole survivor remains in critical condition at a hospital in San Antonio.
The driver of the pickup truck, who state officials identified as 20-year-old Jack Dillon Young, also remains hospitalized.
At a press conference Friday, Jennifer Morrison, the lead federal investigator, said that the bus was equipped with seat belts, and officials believed that "most, if not all passengers" were wearing them at the time of the crash.
The accident was one of the deadliest in recent memory in Texas, Lt. Johnny Hernandez, a spokesperson for the state's Department of Public Safety, told BuzzFeed News.
"It's a big investigation—this kind of accident doesn't happen every day," he said. He added that the state's probe is in its early stages, and that investigators had not yet had an opportunity to speak to Young.
On Thursday, First Baptist New Braunfels set up a relief fund for the victims' family members.
“We are so grateful for the compassionate outpouring of support and prayers we have received since the tragic bus crash in which we lost 13 of our beloved church members,” read a message posted to the church's Facebook page.
Grace Wyler is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Grace Wyler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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