Eight dead after being struck by a vehicle in Texas

2023-05-08 14:22:02

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Police were preparing Monday to arrest the driver of an SUV that plowed into a group of people waiting for the truck Sunday outside a migrant shelter in the border city of Brownsville, Texas, leaving at least eight dead and at least 10 injured. The driver was hospitalized.

In the absence of a bench at the truck stop, some of the victims were sitting on the sidewalk around 8:30 a.m. when the driver struck them, according to video from the Obispo Enrique San Pedro Ozanam Center. Brownsville police investigator Martin Sandoval said police don’t know if the crash was intentional.

Shelter director Victor Maldonado said the van pulled up to the sidewalk, turned around and continued for about 200 feet (60 meters). Some people who were walking by, about 30 feet (10 meters) from the main group, were also hit, Maldonado said. Witnesses detained the driver as he tried to flee, he said.

“This van, a Range Rover, went over the stop which was about 100 feet (30 meters) away and just continued toward the people who were sitting there at the truck stop,” said Maldonado, who reviewed security video.

The victims were waiting for the bus to return downtown after spending the night at the shelter, said Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

Most of the victims were Venezuelan men, Maldonado said. Brownsville has seen an increase in Venezuelan migrants in the past two weeks for unknown reasons, authorities said. Of the 6,000 migrants who were in Border Patrol custody in the Rio Grande Valley on Thursday, 4,000 were Venezuelans.

The driver was taken to the hospital for injuries sustained when the vehicle rolled over, Sandoval said. There were no passengers, and police did not immediately know the name and age of the driver, he added Sunday afternoon.

Sandoval said there were three possible explanations for the collision: “It could be poisoning; it could have been an accident; Or it could have been intentional. In order for us to find out what exactly happened, we need to remove the other two.”

“He is showing a very uncooperative attitude at the hospital, but he will be transferred to our city jail as soon as he is released,” Sandoval said. “We will take his fingerprints and the transfer photo of him, and then we can find out his true identity.”

Police took a blood sample and sent it to the Texas Department of Public Safety laboratory to be tested for toxic substances.

This week’s surge in the number of migrants forced Brownsville commissioners to indefinitely extend an emergency declaration during a special meeting Thursday.

“We don’t want them wandering out there,” Pedro Cardenas, city commissioner, said after the accident. “So we’re trying to make sure they’re as comfortable as possible so they don’t have to go out and look elsewhere.”

Brownsville has long been an epicenter of migration across the US-Mexico border, becoming a key point of interest as the COVID-19 pandemic-related border restrictions, known as the end of as Title 42, which will conclude next week. The Ozanam shelter is the only overnight shelter in the city and handles the flow of thousands of migrants after they are released from federal custody.

Maldonado said that the center had not received threats before the crash, but afterward.

“There were a couple of people who came up to the door and told the security guard that this happened because of us,” Maldonado said.

Some 2,500 migrants have crossed the river into Brownsville daily in recent days, Cardenas said. He said Border Patrol is aware that the city has a capacity of 1,000 people in its processing zone near a crossing point and a building downtown where employees and volunteers tell migrants how to buy bus tickets or plane to its final destination. The city is considering expanding its services to meet needs in the coming days, Cardenas said.

Although 80% of people released from federal custody leave the city that same day, a bottleneck has formed in recent days, the city’s emergency management official said.

“Most of the people who cross don’t want to stay in Brownsville, but we don’t have enough buses for them to buy their tickets and go,” Cardenas said. “Some are waiting for their relatives.”

The Ozanam hostel has a capacity for about 250 people, but many who arrive leave the same day. In recent weeks, an increase in border crossings forced the city to declare an emergency as local, state and federal authorities coordinated the security and humanitarian response.

“In the last two months, we have received 250 to 380 people a day,” Maldonado said.

Although the shelter offers transport to the migrants during the week, they also use public transport.

Rochelle Garza, president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, a nonprofit activist organization, said in a statement: “I hope that what happened today is a wake-up call and that state authorities begin to invest in the humanitarian response that could to have helped the people who were affected by the tragedy this morning”.

Federal representative Vicente González said Sunday that local officials are in communication with the federal government regarding the incident.

“We are extremely saddened and heartbroken that a tragedy like this has happened in our neighborhood,” he said.

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Valerie Gonzalez reported from McAllen, Texas. Travis Loller contributed to this report from Nashville, Tennessee.

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