BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ValleyCentral) – Bishop Daniel E Flores of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville held a Mass Sunday night at the Ozanam Center, just steps away from when eight migrants lost their lives Sunday morning in a crash.
Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez says the death toll has risen to eight of the number of victims killed when they were run over by a motorist outside the homeless shelter.
The incident happened at 8:30 a.m. near Minnesota Road and North Bernal Road in front of the Ozanam Center, which is a shelter for migrants and homeless.
One of the victims said they were sitting on the curb near a bus stop when a gray-colored Range Rover slammed into the group.
Luis Herrera said he and his friends were waiting to go to the airport when they were hit by the vehicle.
“We were going to the airport and it happened unexpectedly because a woman in a car passed by and advised us to separate and moments later the killer was coming in the car gesturing and insulting us,” Herrera said.
Jesus is another survivor of the crash. He said he had been at the Ozanam Center for three days after traveling from Venezuela. His family had bought him a plane ticket to Utah.
“We were waiting there and the truck sped through the traffic light and by the grace of God nothing happened to us, but they did hit the others around us,” he said in Spanish.
Brownsville Police Investigator Martin Sandoval said seven victims died at the scene and another 10 victims were taken to area hospitals. Sunday evening an eighth person died.
“The injured parties have gone up to 10. There might be more possibly coming in, because we have learned that several of the people that were injured have been transported to several hospitals throughout the Valley. So those numbers will be rising.”
Sandoval said the driver was arrested on charges of reckless driving. He said more charges will likely be filed. He said area residents detained the driver until police arrived.
He said police have not identified the driver because he’s been very uncooperative and has given several different names and they’re not sure who he is yet.
“Now, we don’t know the actual cause of the accident. Like I said, it could be three different things. One, he could be intoxication. Two, it could be just an accidental one or three, it could be intentional,” Sandoval said.
Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez released a statement they have yet to receive evidence that it was intentional.
“As we continue to receive information on the tragic incident that occurred today, we have yet to receive evidence that this was an intentional act. Our police department continues with the investigation after apprehending the driver of the vehicle at the scene. The driver has thus far been uncooperative. It is expected that our police department will hold a press conference tomorrow morning,” Mendez said.
A woman who happen to drive by the scene told ValleyCentral she saw several bodies covered on the road, plus another victim being put into an ambulance. She also saw several ladies praying nearby.
Shelter director Victor Maldonado of the Bishop Enrique San Pedro Ozanam Center told the Associated Press he reviewed the shelter’s surveillance video on Sunday morning after receiving a call about the crash.
The city bus stop is across the street from the shelter and is not marked. There was no bench, and people waiting there were sitting along the curb, Maldonado said. He said most of the victims were Venezuelan men.
“What we see in the video is that this SUV, a Range Rover, just ran the light that was about a 100 feet away and just went through the people who were sitting there in the bus stop,” Maldonado said.
He said the SUV flipped after running up on the curb and continued moving for about 200 feet. Some people who were walking on the sidewalk about 30 feet away from the main group were also hit, Maldonado said.
Texas Democratic State Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, who is a Brownsville native, said he has no words to describe the anguish and sickness he felt on hearing the news.
“While the incident is still under investigation, there is no doubt that our state’s leaders are painting a target on migrants’ backs. Political actors — who just want to score points with the absolute worst fringes of society — are ginning people up and getting them to hate their fellow brothers and sisters, and turning human being against human being,” Hinojosa said in a statement.
“My words will fall on deaf ears, but with all my heart, I hope that Republicans take this moment and use it for even the slightest bit of introspection. Using words like ‘invasion’ may get you retweets and Fox News hits — but it’s also causing real-life carnage.
“Please, for the love of God, stop this hatemongering.”
Reporter Brian Svendsen, digital content producer Mia Morales and the Associated Press contributed to this report.