Texas crash victims included new students just branching out

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This combo of undated photos provided by the University of the Southwest, shows from left, golfers Karisa Raines, Mauricio Sanchez and Tiago Sousa. All three were killed in a fiery, head-on collision in West Texas, Tuesday evening, March 15, 2022. (University of the Southwest via AP)

HOBBS, N.M. – Self-disciplined and competitive, Jackson Zinn was all business on the golf course. Despite his big heart for helping others, he could be tough on himself if he wasn't shooting in the 60s.

Family pastor Rick Long of Grace Church in Arvada, Colorado, said Zinn had just wrapped up a tournament with his University of the Southwest teammates in Texas when he called his father, Greg Zinn, to talk about what he thought had been a disappointing round.

“And he just said, ‘Jackson, you’re amazing. You’re not always going to score the way you need to score. You’ll be great.’ That was their last conversation,” Long said.

About an hour later, the college junior piled into a van with his teammates to head back to New Mexico. It was on a two-lane farm road Tuesday evening that a pickup truck collided head-on with the van, killing Zinn, his coach and five teammates.

Authorities announced Thursday that the truck veered into their lane after a tire blew. An unnamed 13-year-old who was behind the wheel and his passenger, 38-year-old Henrich Siemens of Seminole County, Texas, also died in the fiery crash.

Jackson Zinn was close to his parents and two younger sisters, coached children playing in a special needs soccer league his family organized and was well loved by his co-workers at the Red Robin in suburban Denver where he worked as a waiter when he was home from school, said Long in an interview Thursday.

Zinn transferred to the University of the Southwest after spending one year at a military school in New Mexico, seeing it as an opportunity to both play golf and get a Christian education, he said.

Zinn loved the smell of the golf course and the feel of tees and clubs, and enjoyed being able to relax and play in the church’s annual golf tournament to raise money for Indigenous people in the Peruvian Amazon, Long said.

“He said that that’s the one place he could play his game and play it well and not feel the pressure of having to perform because he was doing it for a bigger mission, a bigger reason,” he said.

Most of the students killed in the crash were getting their first taste of life away from home at the private Christian university where on-campus enrollment hovers around 300.

They included freshmen Laci Stone of Nocona, Texas, Travis Garcia of Pleasanton, Texas, Mauricio Sanchez of Mexico, and Tiago Sousa of Portugal. The school and authorities did not release hometowns for Sanchez and Sousa.

Also killed were junior Karisa Raines of Fort Stockton, Texas, and golf coach Tyler James of Hobbs, New Mexico.

The two injured students were identified by authorities as Dayton Price of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada; and Hayden Underhill of Amherstview, Ontario, Canada.

Garcia was voted Pleasanton High School's most valuable player last year, when he and his fellow Eagles made their first-ever appearance at the Texas state championships. He was remembered by those who worked with him at a golf club near Pleasanton as a phenomenal kid who made great strides in just a few short years after first picking up a club.

Myles Dumont, manager of golf operations for the River Bend Golf Club. said Thursday that Garcia played a big role in his high school team's success. He also said the teen didn't mind spending hours and hours outside, practicing his craft.

“He really just fell in love with the game, and we were all really excited to see where his golf career was going to take him,” Dumont said. “We were really proud of him, really happy to see him have an opportunity to go somewhere to play. The sky was the limit for him."

Sousa also had an “immense passion for golf,” said Renata Afonso, the head of Escola Secundária de Loulé, a high school he attended on Portugal’s southern coast.

“He was a very dedicated student, very involved in social causes,” she said. “Any school would be delighted to have had him as a student.”

Before coming to New Mexico, Sanchez had played with the Club de Golf Pulgas Pandas, a club in the prosperous city of Aguacalientes in north-central Mexico.

Stone graduated from Nocona High School in 2021, where she played golf, volleyball and softball. Her mother, Chelsi Stone, described her as a ray of sunshine.

With many students away for spring break, the university was planning a gathering next week, while counselors were at the ready to help students before that. Prayers and condolences continued to flood social media sites as separate fundraising efforts were underway by the university as well as friends to help the victims’ families.

On Thursday, around 150 people turned out to honor Zinn at Texas Roadhouse, a Hobbs restaurant where he worked and met his girlfriend of five months.

“He was my heart," said Maddy Russell, 20, of Hobbs.

Also at the memorial was Russell’s aunt, who had written her niece’s phone number on a piece of paper for Zinn when Russell was too shy to do it. He texted her that day, and soon became a fixture at the family dinner table.

Many who knew Zinn wore Denver Broncos jerseys, including a co-worker who started their friendship with a football rivalry; she’s a Cowboys fan.

“I was from Colorado, and I wasn’t a Bronco fan and he was,” said waitress Kyleen Valdez, 31. “He came in and told us when Russell Wilson was going to be on the team, they’re going to win again. They’re going to win the Super Bowl. And that’s just that’s how everybody knows Jackson — sports, not just golf.”

The mourners released around 100 blue and orange balloons into the cold, whipping wind of eastern New Mexico, and they soon disappeared into the horizon.


Slevin reported from Denver. Montoya Bryan reported from Albuquerque. Associated Press writers Anita Snow in Phoenix and Cedar Attanasio in Hobbs, New Mexico, contributed to this report.