Five members of a popular summer musical production, including three West Texas A&M University theater students, have been killed in a car accident in the Texas Panhandle, officials said Tuesday.
Four of the dead were dancers in the production of "Texas" -- a musical that has been performed every summer at the Palo Duro Canyon State Park south of Amarillo for 48 years -- while the fifth worked in the box office, according to Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation Executive Director Kris Miller.
Eric Harrison, 21, of Fort Worth, and Clinton Diaz, 20, of Amarillo, were juniors and Andrew Duncan, 20, of Wichita Falls, was a senior at the school in Canyon, said Royal Brantley, director of West Texas A&M's theater program.
Amanda Starz, 20, of Timonium, Md., and Julian Arredondo, 24, of Haltom City were also killed in the wreck, Ray said. TCU spokeswoman Lisa Albert said Arredondo got his bachelor's degree in fine arts in acting and graduated from the Fort Worth school in 2011.
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"This has been devastating to our theater family," Brantley said.
The five were returning from an end-of-the-year party Monday night when the accident occurred, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Christopher Ray said. Diaz, the driver, disregarded a stop sign and as the vehicle was attempting to turn onto U.S. 287 near Dumas, about 40 miles north of Amarillo, when it pulled in front of a southbound 18-wheeler and was hit broadside on the passenger's side, a news release late Tuesday said.
The 18-wheeler's load came off the trailer and came to rest on top of the car's driver side, the release said.
Alcohol is suspected as a factor in accident, Ray said. All five were pronounced dead at the scene.
"It's a tragedy," Brantley said. "It doesn't matter how you slice it."
Diaz, who had a smile "a mile wide," was a graduate of Tascosa High in Amarillo and had just transferred from Abilene Christian University, Brantley said. In a recent production at the school "he brought the house down every night. He was so funny," he said.
Harrison, who graduated from Fossil Ridge High, was "an amazing student and a very gifted actor," Brantley said.
"If there was to be a leader among our many theater majors, it was Eric," he said.
Members of the production spent the night at the foundation's offices in Canyon, comforting each other and awaiting more details on accident, Miller said.
Tuesday night's performance was cancelled.
Timothy Johnson, 30, of Houston, who sat directly behind Diaz, was taken to Northwest Texas Hospital in Amarillo, where he was listed in critical condition, the public safety department's release late Tuesday said.
The driver of the 18-wheeler, Theron Arthur McSay, 70, of Fort Collins, Colo., was in stable condition at the same hospital, according to the release.
The Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation produces the musical, which draws up to 65,000 spectators each summer. The last performance of the summer was scheduled for Saturday.