One man was killed and his 15-year-old son was injured along with 10 other men when the pickup truck they were riding in hit a guardrail and overturned on eastbound Interstate 70 early Tuesday. At least 16 people were riding in the pickup, witnesses and the Missouri Highway Patrol said.
The passengers in the truck were described as migrant workers. Federal immigration officers detained at least three men.
The highway patrol said the accident was still under investigation Tuesday afternoon. It was not clear who was driving the truck. No charges had been filed, a spokesman with the highway patrol said.
Adrian Gonzalez Aguilar, one of the men riding in the cab of the truck, said the group had come from Chiapas, Mexico, to look for work in Florida. They crossed the border on foot, borrowed a truck and were in Colorado before they realized they were going the wrong way, he said.
They got on I-70 and headed east. Forty miles east of Columbia, at Route D, the truck careened into the guardrail.
“I was sleeping when I woke up and realized the car was spinning,” Gonzalez said in Spanish. The truck hit the guardrail head-on.
Jay Paredes Scribner, 41, was on his way to St. Louis and was the first to stop at the accident scene. He said the truck’s front end appeared to have splattered.
“I told my wife the car just disintegrated on the guardrail,” he said.
At least one passenger was ejected, he said.
“People were strewn about,” he said. “One guy had flown 50 feet in front of the truck and landed on the pavement.”
Scribner said he called 911 before he got out of his car. He estimated that 15 to 20 minutes passed before state troopers, ambulances and a helicopter arrived. By then the passengers were sitting on the grass, injured and in shock. Scribner, who is fluent in Spanish and teaches in the College of Education at MU, interpreted at the accident site for emergency workers.
Information about who was transported in the helicopter was unavailable, and University Hospital would not provide condition reports on the injured men without being asked about specific names, which were unavailable Tuesday. They were described as mostly in their 20s. Their injuries included a broken pelvis and compound fractures, witnesses said.
Volunteers with the Centro Latino in Columbia were called to the hospital to assist social workers and other hospital personnel.
“Luckily, when we got there, four professional translators were there, so we didn’t have to do any major translating,” said Lisa Brininstool, who works at the Centro Latino through the organization Volunteers in Service to America. “We were there for support and to help people who (were released and) didn’t have a place to go.”
One of the professional interpreters — who was able to identify herself only as Maria before an emergency room nurse cut off the interview — was with the son of the man who died after he was informed that his father had not survived the crash. She held his hand while he cried.
“He said, ‘Why did my father have to die? We came here to get ahead, and now I lost my best friend,’ ” she said.
Centro Latino volunteers said they expected the 15-year-old to be released today and to eventually return to Mexico with his father’s body. Gonzalez was given a place to stay at St. Francis House, a shelter on Range Line Street in Columbia.
Gonzalez said he didn’t know what he would do next. He said he would wait to speak to his cousin, Ulises Urea, who was in University Hospital, before deciding whether to continue to make his way to Florida.
Eduardo Crespi, director of the Centro Latino, said he was asked to contact the Mexican consulate to begin the process of sending the body of the dead man home to Chiapas. The Centro Latino hoped to raise money to help pay for the journeys of both father and son and asked for support from local Mexican restaurants to help the injured men when they’re released from the hospital.