Mildred Rosamond, 87, was one of thirteen people killed Wednesday near Garner State Park. The victims, all seniors, were returning from a church retreat.
"I just hope she didn't suffer," said Dorris Baker, a longtime friend.
Baker and Rosamond lived across the street from each other in the Baypoint neighborhood in La Porte for years. They became fast friends. She loved to cook and entertain. She "just loved life," said Baker.
Baker told Eyewitness News Rosamond and her husband raised their three children in Baytown where she worked for The Baytown Sun, the local newspaper. Rosamond then lived in La Porte for 25 years. Two years ago, she moved to New Braunfels to be closer to her daughter. The bus was carrying members from First Baptist Church of New Braunfels.
"We took care of each other. If I needed her, she was there for me. If she needed me, I was there for her," Baker said.
Pastor Windell Gill told Eyewitness News Rosamond was a member of First Baptist Church La Porte while she lived in the city. He described her as a "strong, caring person."
"She was an amazing, very active woman whose positive outlook toward others was a real mark of her trust in Christ," said Gill. "If we had a church full of Mildreds, we could make the world a much better place in less than a week."
"I just want everyone to know how special she was," added Baker.
Law enforcement officials from two departments say they received phone calls about a pickup driving erratically shortly before the collision.
One man called the dispatch line just past noon Wednesday to report that a white Dodge pickup was swerving on the road, Uvalde police Lt. Daniel Rodriguez said Thursday.
"(The caller) was scared (the pickup driver) was going to cause an accident and asked us to send deputies," Rodriguez said. "Deputies were dispatched, but before they could reach the area, the same caller called 911 to report that the truck had been in an accident."
Dispatchers in Real County received a call from a woman who reported a truck was driving erratically on U.S. 83, county Constable Nathan Johnson said. Real County officials called Uvalde County officials to coordinate a response to send deputies. Then, the woman called back and said the truck that had been driving erratically had struck another vehicle before reaching Real County, Johnson said.
"Unfortunately, he struck a motor vehicle before anyone could respond," he said.
The Texas Department of Public Safety refused to speculate about what caused the head-on collision between a pickup and a small church bus near the town of Concan, although one spokesman said the truck driver appeared to have crossed the center line.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators on Thursday to start looking into the crash, which occurred about 12:25 p.m. outside Garner State Park, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) west of San Antonio.
The wreck occurred along a curve in the road where the speed limit is 65 mph, DPS Sgt. Orlando Moreno said.
Twelve bus passengers and driver Murray William Barrett, 67, died at the scene, DPS Lt. Johnny Hernandez said. Another bus passenger died at a San Antonio hospital. The pickup driver, Jack Dillon Young, 20, of Leakey, Texas, was still in stable condition and the lone survivor from the bus remained in critical condition Thursday night, DPS said.
"These are individuals we've sat next to and had dinner with and laughed with and cried with and worshipped with," Brad McLean, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of New Braunfels, Texas, said Thursday. "They were part of our church family."
He added, "I think it's the everyday interaction and relationship that has been built that, boy, those are the things that really will affect us a week from now, a month from now, a year from now."
Ten of the people killed in the crash were from New Braunfels, according to DPS, and they ranged in age from 61 to 87. They were part of a larger group of 65 people who attended the church retreat, with most taking their own cars for the getaway.
The fronts of the church bus and the pickup were heavily damaged in the wreck. And the bus was backed up onto a guardrail, with glass and debris scattered around.
DPS Sgt. Conrad Hein said the small bus was a 2004 Turtle Top, though he did not know the specific model. Turtle Top's website features shuttle buses with capacities ranging from 17 to 51 passengers, which they bill as "a great alternative to the standard 15-passenger van." Safety concerns have long surrounded the 15-passenger vans, which are frequently used by churches and other groups, with advocates saying they can be difficult to control in an emergency.
The San Antonio-area church said on its website that the members were returning from a three-day retreat at the Alto Frio Baptist Encampment in Leakey, about 9 miles (15 kilometers) from the crash site. Counselors were made available Thursday at the church.
The collision was one of the deadliest in Texas in recent memory. Eight people were killed in May when a charter bus headed to a casino rolled over north of Laredo. In 2015, eight inmates and two corrections officers were killed when their prison bus skidded off a highway near Odessa, traveled down an embankment and was struck by a passing freight train.
Seventeen people died in 2008 when a charter bus crashed in North Texas near the Oklahoma border, and 23 nursing home residents being evacuated from the Houston area as Hurricane Rita approached in 2005 were killed when their charter bus caught fire near Dallas.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Lauer reported from Dallas. Associated Press writers Jamie Stengle and David Warren also contributed from Dallas.
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