Driver in fatal crash outside Texas migrant shelter charged with 8 counts of manslaughter

The man who drove a vehicle into a group of people near a migrant shelter in Brownsville, Texas, on Sunday, killing eight and injuring 10 more, has been charged with eight counts of manslaughter, Brownsville Police chief Felix Sauceda said Monday.

The driver was identified as George Alvarez, a 34-year-old with an extensive rap sheet, including prior charges of assault and driving while intoxicated, according to police. The vehicle he was driving ran a red light, lost control, flipped on its side and hit a total of 18 people, the chief said. Alvarez then tried to flee the scene before he was detained by bystanders, police said.

He was charged on the manslaughter counts as well as 10 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and his bond was set at $3.6 million, the chief said. Police said they are still investigating the cause of the crash.

Several immigrants were among those killed when the Land Rover hit a group waiting at a bus stop across the street from the Bishop Enrique San Pedro Ozanam Center, a non-profit homeless shelter helping to house migrants in the border town, authorities say.

Police say they are still investigating the violent crash, which was captured on surveillance video. The footage shows the vehicle driving at a very high rate of speed and hitting a curb about 30 feet from where the migrants were sitting before the driver appears to lose control, Victor Maldonado, the director of the Ozanam Center in Brownsville, told CNN on Sunday.

There were about 20 to 25 migrants sitting on the curb at around 8:30 a.m. when police reported receiving reports of the crash, according to the shelter's director. The migrants were from Venezuela and had arrived at the shelter just days ago, Maldonado said.

The driver received medical care and was arrested on suspicion of reckless driving, Brownsville Police spokesman Martin Sandoval said.

The fatal crash comes as border towns like Brownsville are bracing for a migrant surge when the public health emergency measure known as Title 42 lapses on Thursday. US Customs and Border Protection officials already have seen an uptick in migrants at the border with Mexico in anticipation of the expiration of Title 42.

A damaged vehicle at the scene of the deadly crash on Sunday.
A damaged vehicle at the scene of the deadly crash on Sunday. Photo credit: Reuters

CNN interviewed migrants staying at the Ozanam Center in December. At the time, the center's director said migrants from all over the world were starting to stay at his shelter and he was seeing an uptick in stays.

Located on the southern tip of Texas, Brownsville's population is nearly 95% Hispanic or Latino, according to the 2022 census.

The city recently declared a state of emergency after receiving an influx of thousands of migrants, many from Venezuela, in the past several weeks, CNN previously reported.

Video shows bystanders detained driver

After the crash, witnesses at the scene detained the driver until officers arrived, police said. Exclusive video obtained by CNN shows a group of people trying to restrain the man after the crash.

Cesar Romero, 34, is a Venezuelan national who said he witnessed the crash and saw his friends run over by the vehicle.

"Some of the men killed had just arrived the night before," he said while tears rolled down his face.

Romero said after the crash, the driver exited his vehicle and appeared to be impaired. He said the driver tried to run away and yelled obscenities, but witnesses stopped him.

The man in the video is the driver of the vehicle, Sandoval told CNN. He has not been named by police. Investigators were made aware of the video Monday morning.

"The video is part of a separate incident investigation but related to the accident," Sandoval said. "We are looking at what the DA can formulate from the video to see if they have enough to potentially face charges."

"We are looking at it three different ways," Sandoval said. "One, to see if he was intoxicated. We took a blood sample, and we have to turn it over to the Texas DPS crime lab. Two, we have to look at it as a malfunction of the car. Or three it could be intentional. All of these are possibilities."

Officers on scene Sunday after a vehicle plowed into a group of people, killing eight.
Officers on scene Sunday after a vehicle plowed into a group of people, killing eight. Photo credit: Reuters

The driver has been uncooperative and has been giving authorities different names, Sandoval said. Investigators must fingerprint the driver to get his identifying details -- which takes longer, he added.

A blood sample was also taken from the driver and a toxicology test will be ordered, according to Sandoval, and it's unclear how long the results will take.

At the scene of the fatal crash Sunday, investigators were examining the mangled Range Rover, which could be seen with its windshield shattered and its driver-side door and hood damaged.

Witnesses described horrifying crash

As the death toll from the Texas crash rose to eight, witnesses described the horrifying moment the driver plowed into the group.

The shelter director and a staff member ran out to the street to find a very graphic scene, with body parts spread across the area, Maldonado told CNN.

"I've got a staff (member) who is in shock," Maldonado said, adding he, too, was in shock.

Another witness described the vehicle overturning as it hit the crowd.

"I could hear the car hitting people and the thumping and I saw how the SUV rolled over when he hit them," witness Jose Del Transito Rubio Armijo told KRGV in Spanish.

Witnesses have also described seeing the driver ignore a red light before driving up on a curb and running over people at the bus stop, according to Sandoval.

The FBI is assisting local police with the investigation and Border Patrol is working to confirm the identities of the victims, authorities said.

Police are set to provide more information about the crash during a Monday morning news conference.

Community members marked a solemn Sunday mass at the Ozanam Center Sunday evening, just hours after the deadly crash across the street.

"As we await a fuller report from law enforcement authorities, let us stop for a moment to mourn these losses of life and to pray. Pray for the victims, pray for the families and loved ones, and pray for our community," Bishop Daniel Flores of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville said in a statement.

"We must resist the corrosive tendency to devalue the lives of immigrants, the poor, and the vulnerable. Let us take extra steps as a local community to care for and protect one another, especially the most vulnerable," Flores said.