ODESSA, Texas (AP) – Eight inmates and two corrections officers died Wednesday when a prison bus skidded off an icy West Texas highway, slid down an embankment and collided with a passing freight train, authorities said.
The overpass on Interstate 20 was slick with ice Wednesday morning when the Texas Department of Criminal Justice bus left the roadway in Penwell, just west of Odessa, according to Ector County Sheriff Mark Donaldson.
An earlier accident on the I-20 overpass may have contributed to the prison bus losing control, Donaldson said.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice confirmed the 10 deaths in a statement, adding that four prisoners and one corrections officer were injured.
“It’s as bad as you can imagine,” Odessa Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Kavin Tinney told the Odessa American newspaper. “In 32 years it’s as bad as anything I’ve seen.”
Tiffany Harston, spokeswoman for Medical Center Hospital in Odessa, said four of the injured are in critical condition and one is in serious condition.
“It’s with a heavy heart that we mourn the loss of those killed and injured this morning in a tragic accident,” said Brad Livingston, executive director of the Department of Criminal Justice. “Their loved ones will be in our thoughts and prayers.”
Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Department of Criminal Justice, said the bus was taking the inmates from the Middleton prison in Abilene to the Sanchez prison in El Paso. The prisoners were handcuffed together in pairs.
After the accident around 7:30 a.m., the white bus came to rest on its side, next to the railroad tracks, crumpled with heavy damage to its front and undercarriage. The top of the bus was caved inward.
The Union Pacific freight train with four locomotives and 58 cars came to a stop soon after. None of the cars derailed, but two containers at the rear of the train were damaged, said Mark Davis, a railroad spokesman.
The containers were carrying hundreds of parcels and packages, many of which were strewn along the tracks.
No Union Pacific employees were injured.
The train, which was traveling from the Los Angeles area to Marion, Arkansas, remained stopped at the accident site several hours after the accident, Davis said.
“We’ll send crews to inspect the train, inspect the track,” he said.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it’s sending its own team of inspectors to the scene.
State Rep. Tan Parker notified the Texas House of the accident and led a moment of silence.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued a statement offering condolences to the families of those killed in the wreck.
“I also pray for a speedy recovery of a third correctional staff member and four offenders who were transported with injuries,” he said.
In June, an inmate was killed and several other people were injured when a Department of Criminal Justice van collided with a car in Central Texas.