Picking up the pieces: The University of the Southwest’s golf team carries on a year after tragic van crash

HOBBS, New Mexico. When Dayton Price woke up, he was on fire.

Flames engulfed the van containing Price, seven teammates, and his coach. There was no time to think. He broke a window and dragged himself onto the sidewalk before trying to get his friends out. Only Price, 19, and Hayden Underhill, 20, managed to break out of hell, and even then with difficulty. Helicopters soon landed at the crash site and took them to hospitals about 100 miles away to save their lives.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Heinrich Siemens, 38, and his 13-year-old son were in a white Ram 2500 truck heading south on Farm-to-Market Road 1788 deep into the plains of West Texas when it crossed the center lane into 8 a.m.: March 15, 2022 at 5 p.m. Head-on collision with a van carrying eight members of the Southwestern University golf team and its coach. The team had about 30 minutes of a 90-minute drive back to campus.

Nine of the 11 participants died. The NTSB later ruled that Siemens had methamphetamine in his system.

The victims included 26-year-old Tyler James, the golf coach who drove the van, as well as 22-year-old golfer Jackson Zinn of Westminster, Colorado; Carisa Raines, 21, from Fort Stockton, Texas; Travis Garcia, 19, from Pleasanton, Texas; Mauricio Sanchez, 19, from Mexico; Tiago Souza, 18, from Portugal; and Lacey Stone, 18, from Nocona, Texas.

University of the Southwest
University of the Southwest

Six players and the coach of the Southwestern University golf team who died in a car accident on March 15, 2022.

The final report has not yet been published. Why the truck crossed the center line is still unknown. Price spent 86 days in the hospital before going home. A year after the crash, he and Underhill, along with their former teammates not involved in the crash, the families of the victims, and the USW community are still coping with pain and loss.

There are guilt and questions that can never be answered about the moment that changed their lives forever. Sometimes it’s almost unbearable. But everyone knows that we need to move forward.

University of the Southwest
University of the Southwest

The scene of the fatal accident that claimed the lives of six Southwestern University golfers and a team coach, plus two others, on March 15, 2022 at 1788 Farm-to-Market Road in Andrews County, Texas (Eli Hartman/Odessa). American via AP)

Each month, Price and Underhill join a Zoom call with the remaining members of the USW golf team and family members of their former teammates. This is a group therapy session. They are laughing. They cry. They like.

“None of us really should know each other as well as we do,” Lacey Stone’s mother, Chelsea, said.

“We are almost furious that we have to do this,” added Laci’s father, Haidan.

Crash site

University of the Southwest
University of the Southwest

Road from farm to market 1788 looking south, January 26, 2023. (Cameron Jourdan/Golfweek) #

It’s a cool January morning, but the sun is hot on the sidewalk of 1788 Farm Market Road in Andrews County, Texas. It is a rural stretch of two-lane highway connecting the Midlands to Seminole, with the city of Andrews just 10 miles to the west. Half a mile north of the junction with State Highway 115 is a straight road where the yellow centerline is faded due to the grueling impact of oil field traffic and West Texas weather.

The road itself is uneven, imitating the surrounding landscape. Oil pump jacks repeatedly hit the ground, marking the horizon in all directions. The speed limit is 75 mph, although this is more of a recommendation. Cars, trucks and semi-trailers rush through this area, kicking up dust.

It’s easy to miss, but look to the east side of the road and you’ll see it: two blue pieces of metal, resembling a cross, attached to a barbed wire fence post. Purple, white and pink flowers, backlit by solar panels, hug the mud, and hearts bob on the barbed wire. In the middle of each of the seven hearts is a letter, the name of each deceased USW golfer. Seven golf balls are also left in the mud, untouched and seeking refuge under the cascading bouquets of flowers.

University of the Southwest
University of the Southwest

Debris remains scattered around the memorial in memory of the six players and coach of the Southwestern University golf team who died on March 15, 2022 in an accident while returning from the tournament. (Cameron Jourdan/Golfweek)

Closer to the highway, there is evidence of how this memorial came about: scraps of rubber, fragments of a headlight, fragments of metal. Faded colors and stains of dirt tattoo the remains, giving the impression that they have always been there.

On the western side of the road lies a smaller tribute lying on a bed of white stones. He is again surrounded by rubber and shrapnel. There are two bouquets, one on either side of the rocks. Behind them are pairs of crosses, one of which is sculpted from the bark of a tree, and the other with the names of Henry Siemens and Ricky Siemens. Below the names are dates of birth and death. Dry, crisp brown roses lay on the stones, guarded by two lights that illuminated the gloomy scene.

University of the Southwest
University of the Southwest

A memorial to Henry Siemens and Ricky Siemens was erected. Henry, 38, was driving a truck with his 13-year-old son that crashed into a Southwestern team van. (Cameron Jourdan/Golfweek)

The memorials are the most striking, powerful and emotional signposts along the 1788 Farm Market Road. Flowers dance in the wind as cars pass by. The markings applied by law enforcement agencies on the highway have almost disappeared, although the horrors remain.


Steve Appel’s office is typical of a small college athletic director.

Baseball jerseys adorn the walls as Appel, also a baseball coach and director of infrastructure, is the USW’s jack-of-all-trades. His desk is littered with papers, though they are organized in a way that only he can understand. There are couches next to his desk, often a place where fellow coaches or athletes can hang out and escape from the outside world. Often this is also Appel’s salvation.

“There are no instructions on this,” he said, holding back tears.

Appel went to college in Connecticut with about 8,000 students, but that wasn’t for him. He longed for an even smaller school environment. He likes the smallest details, down to cutting the grass on his baseball field. USW was unique. Now in his ninth year of living there and no children of his own, the students and staff of this small New Mexico campus—an attendance of roughly 1,000, including virtual students and 300 on campus—have become his family.

University of the Southwest
University of the Southwest

A sign on the campus of Southwestern University January 25, 2023. (Cameron Jourdan/Golfweek) #

That’s why his job changed forever when his phone caught fire on March 15, 2022. The USW baseball team just wrapped up a game in New Orleans, 16 hours from home. Sitting in his hotel room, Appel began to receive bits of information from someone in Hobbs.

“There’s been an accident.”

“It has to do with the golf team.”


Appel still remembers the emptiness he felt when the reports rained down.

“It was a tough, tough night because you weren’t (there) and didn’t know all the details,” Appel said. “You are still trying to take care of 40 kids on the road. It’s not where we can take a bus and go home in a couple of hours.”

In the end, all the details came to light. The two-day drive home from Louisiana seemed to take two weeks. The following days, weeks and months flew by no faster.

The news vans and the limelight left Hobbs, but Appel and the students still on campus, many of them athletes, continued their daily lives. There are questions left. Questions about the future of the golf team and the change of coach. When will they post this job?

The answer was always the same: whenever Appel was ready.

He knew he couldn’t replace Tyler. There would never be another like him. Inside the USW Athletics Building, Tyler’s office remains largely intact. The papers remain scattered on his desk. There is also a water bottle. The rug is hidden on the shelf.

“There are still no answers.”


Hayley Cruz was shaking. Her stomach shook.

I can’t do this, she thought to herself. But she couldn’t stop. She had to continue.

On October 24, 2022, more than six months after the accident, Cruz was in Plainview, Texas, halfway between Amarillo and Lubbock. The USW golf teams played at the Plainview Country Club in their first tournament since the crash.

On that fateful day in March, Cruz and Taylor Phillips both entered the TankLogix Collegiate competition in Midland with their teammates, but instead of getting into the van and returning to campus, they stayed with their family. Little did they know the consequences of this decision.

Cruz and Phillips are two of four members of the USW golf teams who chose to return to the Mustangs, along with Harrison Kessler and Phillip Lopez of the men’s team. It is possible that the golf teams would have been made redundant if the four had not returned to school after the accident.

No one would blame them if they left.

And yet they were here competing in the Wayland Baptist Invitational in Plainview. Cruz and Phillips played individually because there were only three members left on the women’s golf team this season. Meanwhile, Kessler and Lopez with three new men’s teammates. The main four wanted to play well, but the score didn’t matter. These student-athletes were thinking about more than good golf shots.

“I just wanted to go out and just do something amazing,” Kessler said. “And that just can’t be. It’s hard to deal with that.”

University of the Southwest
University of the Southwest

Left to right: Taylor Phillips, Haley Cruz, Phillip Lopez and Harrison Kessler pose with the flag during the B5 Foundation tournament. (Courtesy of Southwestern University)

A few days after the tragedy, Kessler, Lopez, Cruz and Phillips went home…


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