Sandoval said the cause of the crash has not been determined, but that police are awaiting results from a blood sample taken from the driver to see if he was under the influence. The driver, apparently injured when his silver Range Rover overturned in the crash, is not cooperating with officers and had not yet been identified, he said.
The death toll climbed by one Sunday after a victim succumbed to their injuries at the hospital, Mayor Trey Mendez said Sunday evening in a statement. “We have had one more casualty as one of the injured tragically passed away from their injuries at the hospital,” Mendez said. “The total lives lost is currently 8 and several more remain critical.”
Luis Herrera, who was among those hit by the SUV, said in an interview that many of the victims already had tickets out of Brownsville, some to reunite with their families. Herrera, 33, who suffered a broken arm and was released from the hospital Sunday afternoon, said the driver was taunting people standing at the bus stop, driving past them and yelling insults.
“He crossed the street and he hit the gas and he drove by my legs, and hurt my arm,” he said in Spanish. “The others, he killed almost all of them.”
He recalled the driver yelling: “You’re invading my property!”
Sandoval said the driver allegedly ran a red light and plowed into a group of people standing at a local bus stop in this border city in southeastern Texas. The victims were standing outside the Bishop Enrique San Pedro Ozanam Center, a migrant and homeless shelter in the border town.
Those injured were taken to hospitals, Sandoval said, including one who was airlifted.
“He just hit the people,” he said.
Police were still trying to confirm the names and ages of the victims. Sandoval said some were migrants from Venezuela who recently crossed the border. The bus stop serves migrants and U.S. citizens in this city of 190,000 residents.
“This is a public bus stop,” he said. “So we don’t know if some residents of ours were there.”
Police are awaiting help from the U.S. Border Patrol to identify the victims, since some may have been recently processed at the border. “Definitely, there were some migrants there,” Sandoval said.
The homeless shelter had been housing several recent border crossers. Brownsville is one of the areas receiving large numbers of migrants as the federal government prepares to lift pandemic travel restrictions Thursday and reopen the border to asylum seekers.
Video obtained by The Washington Post showed the driver running the red light about 100 feet away from where the victims were waiting for a bus.
Witnesses said the driver tried to run away afterward, Victor Maldonado, director of the Ozanam center, told The Post. But the witnesses stopped him from leaving the scene, Maldonado added. Some witnesses said he appeared to be driving under the influence, Maldonado said.
Another video shows the driver sitting shirtless on the street, hands behind his back, as witnesses yell at him and police approach him. Police then make the man stand up and walk him to a police car.
“I’ve got some folks that are very banged up,” Maldonado said. “They’re crying.”
Herrera, one of the victims, said he and the other migrants from Venezuela had been in the United States for only a week.
Multiple videos of the crash that were reviewed by The Post show victims lying on the ground and witnesses crying out for help.
Osvaldo Prieto, who works at a nearby migrant shelter, said in an interview in Spanish that he was heading to offer support at the center on Sunday morning because the head of the kitchen there apparently saw the crash and was so shocked by it that she left the center.
The migrant shelter is located near the Brownsville airport, in an area where migrants are known to gather to eat meals from the shelter before being taken to bus terminals. Prieto said he wasn’t aware of any threats made to the center ahead of the attack.
“It’s not a secret that this is a place where migrants are being welcomed,” he said.
Brownsville, which borders the Mexican city of Matamoros, is one of the busier stretches for migrant crossings along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The city is likely to draw more national attention after May 11, the date the White House is planning to lift the emergency public health restrictions known as Title 42, which allowed Customs and Border Protection to swiftly expel migrants seeking humanitarian protection at the southern border.
Unlawful crossings have soared over the past two years, and the Department of Homeland Security said it expects another increase after the expulsions end.
The Biden administration last week ordered 1,500 active-duty troops to the southern border in response to the end of the restrictions.
The office of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has not issued a comment on the incident. Abbott has made headlines for transporting migrants to Democratic parts of the country. Last week, he drew condemnation for his decision to identify five mass killing victims as “illegal immigrants.”
Critics have also assailed Abbott for using inflammatory language such as “invasion” to characterize the border influx, noting that many new arrivals are young workers or children seeking a better life in the United States after fleeing poverty and repression in countries such as Venezuela.
In a statement emailed Sunday, Department of Homeland Security spokesman Angelo Fernandez said Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas “has been briefed on the tragic situation in Brownsville and has reached out to local leaders to offer condolences and the full support of the Department. The Department is in close touch with local authorities to provide assistance.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas called for protections for migrants during the investigation. Although the cause of the crash was not yet known, advocates expressed concern that it followed anti-immigrant sentiment spread by Abbott and other politicians.
“We call on federal, state and local governments to take immediate action to protect migrants and to lead with compassion,” Oni Blair, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement.
South Texas, as the Associated Press reported last week, has experienced a surge in the arrival of Venezuelan immigrants over the last two weeks, particularly in the area around Brownsville. The AP said that on Thursday, 4,000 of about 6,000 migrants in Border Patrol custody in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas were Venezuelan.
The political, economic and humanitarian plight in Venezuela has resulted in over 7 million people fleeing the embattled nation since 2015, creating one of the world’s largest immigration crises. Thousands travel on foot to the United States — passing through several countries, dodging smugglers and cartels, and watching people die in their journey through the Darien Gap, a dangerous swath of jungle between Colombia and Panama.
“To have sacrificed so much, to have risked death and then to finally find an appointment to enter legally, only to die in this gruesome way, it’s absolutely heartbreaking,” said Patricia Andrade, director of the Venezuelan Awareness Foundation, a group that helps new arrivals in the Miami area.
Andrade had just flown back to Miami after spending a week in the southern border. She said she woke up on Sunday afternoon with her inbox full of queries from families who were worried about their loved ones — some asked if she had a list of victims.
“Some of their family members vanish in the jungle. And now they have to worry about whether a person rammed into them with their car,” she said.