A high-speed chase in South Texas concluded in a scene of carnage that left six members of the same family dead, witnesses and authorities said Tuesday.
Diana Ramirez ran barefoot from her porch Monday afternoon after hearing the violent collision northwest of Mission and found a destroyed Chevrolet Suburban surrounded by victims and body parts at the corner of her yard.
The Texas Department of Public Safety said in a statement Tuesday that the alleged driver of the fleeing pickup was Hector Ramirez, 18, of Roma. He remained hospitalized with undisclosed injuries, but authorities planned to file criminal charges upon his release from the hospital.
DPS said that one of its sergeants was chasing Ramirez in a stolen Ford F250 pickup at high speed when he slammed into three vehicles, including a Chevrolet Suburban that carried all six of the family members who died. Ramirez was arrested after attempted to flee the scene, the statement said.
Justice of the Peace Ismael Ochoa said the family from Penitas included: mother, Olga Lidia Morales Cardosa, 35; father, Jose U. Ortiz, 55; and children, Elias Ortiz, 1; Fernanda Valeria Ortiz, 3; Jose Ortiz, 6; and Ricardo Ortiz, 5. The only survivor from that vehicle was 3-year-old Jesus Ortiz, according to DPS.
Diana Ramirez, 42, who is not related to the driver, said the fleeing pickup had hit the Suburban as it flew through the intersection. She had seen high-speed chases before, but never with this loss of life, she said.
"It's not worth it because it kills a lot of people," she said in Spanish.
Juan De La Rosa, 36, was repairing a playground kitty-corner across the intersection from Ramirez's house.
"I heard the sirens and then I heard the truck press the gas," he said. "My first instinct was: I hope he doesn't hit nobody."
He saw the pickup plow into the intersection leaving the Suburban looking like a convertible, but also hitting two other cars.
"I just took off running," De La Rosa said. The first victim he saw was a boy about 2 or 3 years old on the ground covered in dirt in blood. He was conscious, but in shock.
De La Rosa found no other survivors from the Suburban. DPS said two adults and three children were injured in the other two cars.
The only vehicle in pursuit was a white unmarked Dodge Charger, which De La Rosa said the DPS sergeant was driving. He heard his sirens, but wasn't sure if he had been running his lights.
De La Rosa said it was fortunate schools were not in session because it occurred near the time they would be letting out and there are two less than a half mile from the intersection.
"The officer should have noticed he was in a school zone," he said. "I can't take these images out of my head."
The pickup Ramirez was driving had been reported stolen more than a week earlier.
DPS policy on pursuits leaves it up to the individual officer to decide when to abandon the chase, such as "when it becomes evident that continued pursuit will bring about unwarranted danger to the public or to the officer."
The policy goes on to say that even in cases of emergency, the officer is not relieved of the duty "to drive with all due regard for the safety of all persons, nor shall such provisions protect the officer from the consequences of reckless disregard for the safety of others."
The crash occurred on the same road, a few miles east of where less than a year before, a DPS helicopter joined in the pursuit of another pickup truck. The agency would say later its troopers believed the truck was carrying drugs. But when a DPS sharpshooter aboard the helicopter fired in an attempt to shoot out the truck's tires, he instead killed two Guatemalan immigrants who were among six under a tarp in the truck's bed. The 14-year-old driver was arrested and just last week was arrested again fleeing Border Patrol.
Diana Ramirez said Tuesday that in addition to the pickup's driver who was arrested, she saw other people run from the truck into the citrus grove north of her home. De La Rosa said he heard of two in the pickup.
Smugglers often employ young drivers to move immigrants who have entered the country illegally between stash houses where they stay until they begin the next leg of their journey north. Pursuits of these drivers are regular occurrences in the area.
In April 2012, nine Mexican immigrants died when a van carrying 18 people crashed nearby in Palmview while fleeing Border Patrol.