PALO PINTO COUNTY – A Ford F150 pickup slammed head-on into a Chrysler Town and Country minivan Thursday afternoon on U.S. Highway 180 about three miles east of Palo Pinto, seriously injuring a young man riding in the pickup and a man and woman in the minivan and killing the pickup's driver.
Jackie Salters, 69, of Palo Pinto, was pronounced dead at the scene by Justice of the Peace Todd Baker.
Riding with Salters in the pickup was, Benjamin Christopher Walker, 20, who was seriously injured in the crash, said Lonny Haschel, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman.
He was taken to Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth where he was treated and released, according to a hospital spokesman.
Donald Nelson, 58, of Breckenridge, driver of the minivan, and Sherri Nelson, 58, of Breckenridge, passenger in the van were transported to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Haschel said.
The hospital would not release their condition reports.
Walker and the couple were evacuated from the debris-strewn highway by Air Evac and Careflight helicopters.
The pickup, traveling west on the highway, veered into the eastbound lane around 12:40 p.m. and crashed head-on into a Chrysler minivan driven by a woman and her husband, said Jerry Todd, who came upon the crash as he was driving to lunch in Mineral Wells.
Haschel said it wasn't immediately clear what caused the pickup to veer from its lane or what speed both vehicles were traveling. The crash was still under investigation.
Todd said a tractor-trailer driver who was in front of him went to the pickup to check on Salters and his grandson.
Todd called 911 and went over to the van and saw the husband and wife pinned inside.
When emergency crews extracted the man, he appeared to be bleeding heavily from his left thigh.
Mark Henson, the tractor-trailer driver, was heading to Fort Worth from Breckenridge behind the van when he saw Salters' pickup veer into the eastbound lane and strike the minivan.
“I saw everything unfold tragically,” he said.
The force of the impact appeared to have crushed the driver's side of both vehicles, and apparently caused Salters' pickup to skid to a stop facing the eastbound lane of the highway, while at the same time slinging the minivan about 50 feet away into the eastbound ditch.
“I stopped and ran up to the pickup to check their status,” Henson said. “I couldn't get any response from the driver.”
He said he called emergency dispatchers who told him to stay with Salter and Walker to comfort them until help arrived.
EMS then arrived about three minutes later, he said.
Three ambulances from Mineral Wells paid and volunteer fire departments arrived at the scene and emergency crews began trying to rescue Salters from his truck using the jaws of life. Emergency crews also had to pull the man and woman from their van and a crew tended to Walker in the ditch, safely away from the shoulder.
As firefighters tore the driver's side door from the pickup with the jaws of life to get at Salters, EMS personnel treated him, trying to revive him with chest compressions.
Henson said when he got up to Salters' pickup Walker was disoriented and appeared to have a head wound.
Angela Bryant, who is Walker's aunt, arrived at the scene with her husband, Clint.
She said Salters was Walker's guardian and the young man was staying with him. They weren't officially relatives, but Salters treated Walker like family.
“Jack took him in,” she said. She added Salters had one of the biggest hearts in Palo Pinto.
Clint Bryant said Salters was his stepdad. “He took me in after my mother died.”