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Texas Town Mourns Crash Victims

August 22, 1998

HEBBRONVILLE, Texas (AP) _ A pickup truck blew a tire and smashed head on into another pickup crowded with women and children returning from a religious service, killing all eight people in the two vehicles.

Thelma Rodriguez Vasquez and six of her female relatives were heading home from a weekly prayer meeting Thursday night on a remote stretch of highway just northeast of this ranching town.

``This should never have happened. It was just a freak accident,″ said Gilberto Ybanez, sheriff of Jim Hogg County. ``There were no brakes applied from what I saw. Just head on.″

Hugo Rafael Gutierrez may have been speeding when the tire blew on his truck, sending it into the path of Mrs. Vasquez, said Tom Vinger, spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The extended cab truck rolled on its side, burst into flames and ejected Mrs. Vasquez, authorities said.

``Her body was shattered to pieces,″ said Pastor Juan Sanchez, who was driving several minutes behind Mrs. Vasquez. ``The flames engulfed her body and I couldn’t do anything.″

The other four women and two children were trapped in the burning truck. Gutierrez, 41, of Laredo, was ejected from his pickup and died.

Mrs. Vasquez’s husband, Priliciano Vasquez, was driving in a separate car ahead of the women on the two-lane road when he noticed flames in his rearview mirror. He, the pastor and others watched the women burn to death, unable to come to their aid.

``When I got there, he was just standing there with big eyes, crying,″ Ybanez said. ``He saw me and he hugged me. I didn’t want him to get too close (to the wreck). It was something you don’t want to see.″

With Mrs. Vasquez, 53, were her nephew’s wife, Annabel DeLeon, 36; her niece, Ludim Vasquez, 32; and Ludim’s daughter Esperanza Rios, 7. Also killed were Mrs. Vasquez’s sister, Dalia Ramirez, 45; her daughter, Dina Maria Ramirez, 17, and granddaughter Stephanie Ramirez, 3.

Purple ribbons hung Friday on the doors of the small drive-through grocery store Mrs. Vasquez owned in Hebbronville.

``They’re going to be missed terribly, especially by the children who lost their mothers,″ said Alma Espinosa, one of the relatives who gathered Friday at Mrs. Vasquez’s home.

Mrs. Vasquez had three other children, Dalia Ramirez had five, Ms. DeLeon had three and Ludim Vasquez had two who lost their mothers.

Hebbronville, population 4,700, is about 55 miles east of Laredo in south-central Texas.

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