Two men died on the road Tuesday morning and another died at Medical Center Hospital after a wreck between a well-servicing company vehicle and an asbestos removal company vehicle.
Fernando Portillo, 56, of Tomball and Jose Ponce, 34, of Canutillo died at the scene and Michael Vonesh, 57, of Pearland died at MCH, according to the Department of Public Safety.
Six other men were injured in the well-serving vehicle and went to the hospital, and two of those men are in critical condition: Gerardo Villarreal, 35, of Florence and Genaro Duarte, 39, of San Antonio (critical serious). The other injured people and their conditions: Eloy Rodriguez, 44, of San Antonio, serious; and Jose Torres-Villarreal, 49, of Del Rio and Dequinton Pratt, 24, of San Antonio and James Headley, 38, of Verbena, Ala., were all in good condition.
Oscar Caballero, 39, who according to DPS was the driver of the asbestos removal company vehicle, was also in good condition.
Emergency services units responded at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday at Loop 338 and Yukon Road to the accident where seven men went to the hospital, with two pronounced dead at the scene for a total of nine men in the Sanjel well-servicing vehicle.
The other vehicle, a company truck for Asbestos Removal Inc., collided with the Sanjel vehicle and had three people in it.
Sgt. Hunter Lewis with the Department of Public Safety said a white truck pulling a red trailer was northbound on Loop 338 and a gray van was southbound on the loop turning east onto Yukon Road.
Two men were ejected from the van, Lewis said.
Lewis said the van failed to yield the right-of-way to the pickup truck, at which point the truck struck the side of the van.
Trooper Corey Prantil was the investigating officer at the scene.
Headley, a member of the Sanjel crew involved in the wreck, said he was praying for a girl on Facebook in the back seat when the accident happened.
“I was praying for her, and obviously someone was praying for me,” Headley said, as one of the two crew members who walked away from the accident.
Also known as “Bama” because he is from Alabama, Headley said two of the men who died were good people. At the time of the interview, it was not known if a third crew member had died.
“They were sort of the life and spirit of the crew,” he said. “All I could think of is my kids. It’s hard to imagine how their kids are going to deal with all of this.”
Headley said the crew had only been driving along Loop 338 for the past four or five days, but traffic in Odessa is much different from traffic in his home state of Alabama.
He said although he was not watching the road while another crew member was driving, he thinks people being cautious and further traffic controls would have prevented the wreck.
“High-speed places like that, there should have been a red light there instead of a stop sign,” Headley said.
Despite walking away from the accident, he said he and another crew member bumped heads, and in the emergency room lobby he was suffering from a headache and dizziness and was developing a large bump and black eye on the side of his head.
Luis Bueno, an employee with Asbestos Removal Inc., said he was suffering chest pains Tuesday morning as he sat in the emergency room of Medical Center Hospital.
Bueno, who speaks only Spanish, used his wife Norma Bueno as an interpreter to tell his story.
Bueno recalled being a passenger in the pickup, traveling northbound with two coworkers, when the accident happened. According to Bueno, the van that collided with them was westbound on Yukon Road.
Bueno’s two co-workers went to MCH for treatment.
“I don’t know what else happened; all I know is that the next thing I knew, some man was in front of me,” Bueno said.
Working for the company for about six years, Bueno said he and his coworkers travel East Loop 338 “all the time” for work. One of the things he said he would like to see is better traffic control.
“I don’t know why they don’t put a light out there,” Bueno said.
A spokeswoman with Asbestos Removal Inc. would not confirm or deny if a company vehicle was involved in the accident, and said there would be no comment on the situation.
Sanjel released a news release, stating that the company was working to notify the families of those involved and that their “thoughts and prayers” were with everyone.
Ector County Judge Susan Redford, also acting director of the Midland Odessa Transportation Organization Metropolitan Planning Organization, said this type of wreck is exactly why the organization is hoping to expand the highway.
“That is our No. 1 priority when funding arrives from the state, to widen that, turn that into a four lane freeway,” Redford said. “Ideally what we would like to see of course is four lanes divided, with on and off ramps. However, that is quite expensive. If we don’t get that money, we’ll have to continue with the turn system.”
Redford said traffic lights defeat the purpose of a loop to expeditiously move traffic around congested areas in the city.
Gene Powell, a spokesman with the Odessa District of the Texas Department of Transportation, said the intersection actually was approved for a stop light in 2011, and funding would come through for the signal in 2016.
However, Powell said a stop light does not replace good driving habits.
“We have accidents in intersections with lights as it is,” Powell said. “Everybody wants to say a traffic light will prevent these things, but the only way to prevent these things is driver behavior.”
Even so, Powell said the intersection has been labeled as dangerous and TxDOT is working to make it safer, which includes the MOTOR MPO lane expansion.
Other Odessa drivers have complaints about Loop 338, saying it’s too dark at certain times of the day and that road conditions are deplorable.
Rita Barrientes said her friend Kimberly Lynn Vasquez, 31, died Sept. 1 after the vehicle she was involved in a head-on collision. Vasquez and the driver of the vehicle, Librado Vallez Dominguez, were reported as not wearing their seatbelts and Vasquez died at the scene.
A DPS report states the accident happened at 2:11 a.m., and Barrientes said darkness played a role in her friend’s death.
“We probably need more lighting … because it’s too dark (in that area),” Barrientes said.
Raymond Levario said he spends a lot of time on Loop 338 driving for work. What concerns him the most, he said, is vehicle speed on the already torn-up roads.
“There’s a lot of oilfield traffic and the roads are messed up, too,” he said. “Maybe the speed limit is way too high.”
When asked if he would take Loop 338 as a route outside of work, his answer was immediate.
“I’d try to find a different route,” Levario said.
Sanjel is based in Calgary, Alberta, and Asbestos Removal Inc. is based in Odessa.