ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Authorities investigating a deadly commercial passenger bus crash along a New Mexico highway said Friday that one of the passengers was carrying a backpack filled with almost $100,000 in cash.
Sandoval County Sheriff’s Lt. Keith Elder confirmed during a news conference that the money was discovered after the passenger was transported to an Albuquerque hospital, where numerous other people and their belongings were taken following the crash.
The discovery has prompted a separate investigation, Elder said. He had no other information about the passenger or the money.
The passenger was among close to 30 people who were injured when the bus rolled and was hit by another vehicle and then sideswiped by a semi-truck along Interstate 25 early Sunday. The bus driver lost control while trying to avoid another crash that happened moments earlier on the dark highway.
The three bus passengers who were killed were all women from Mexico who lived in Colorado.
Authorities said it took some time to identify the victims as none of the women had personal identification on them and the passengers’ personal effects had been strewn throughout the bus and along the roadway.
Some of the names given by family members also did not match the names associated with the ticket purchases, Elder said.
Authorities said the identification process was further complicated since the bus company tracked only those passengers who boarded at various stops before the crash, not those who got off the bus.
The bus was headed from Denver to El Paso, Texas. Authorities said it also made stops in other Colorado and New Mexico cities.
The wreckage from the bus, semi-truck and other vehicles was scattered across both sides of the interstate, forcing the roadway’s closure for several hours. The crash also spurred frantic 911 calls, and authorities described the scene as chaotic as they tried to get to passengers who had been trapped in the bus.
New Mexico state police investigators are working on reconstructing the accident scene as federal authorities are collecting data from the commercial vehicles involved.
Elder said the investigation could take several weeks.
Authorities on Friday released the name of the driver who rear-ended a pickup truck, triggering the five-vehicle chain reaction crash. That driver — Phuong Truong, 26, of Albuquerque — was ejected from the car after it was struck by the bus. Truong remains hospitalized.
It remains unclear what caused Truong to slam into the back of the pickup truck.
Elder said the case will be forwarded to the district attorney’s office once the investigation is complete and it will be up to prosecutors to determine if any charges will be filed.