The collision took place after the vehicle veered off northbound Highway 281 and hit the tree near a historical marker about half a mile from the city limits of George West.
All of the Nissan’s occupants were hospitalized.
“One of them — a woman — was hurt really bad, but they all made it out alive,” explained Live Oak County Sheriff Larry Busby. “After one of them was extracted using Jaws Of Life, the vehicle caught fire and burned.”
According to initial reports, two separate HALO Flights took two occupants to Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Memorial; AirLIFE transported two to University Hospital San Antonio, and another helicopter ambulance transported another occupant to a Beeville facility.
The driver — whose name was not immediately available — was also taken to an area hospital while escorted by Homeland Security, Sheriff Busby said.
The driver will either be charged in local or federal court, Sheriff Busby said. The others will be handed over to Border Patrol.
The driver struck the tree while trying to access another route, away from the authorities who were following on northbound 281. The chase began on NB 281 about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“They apparently intended to crash through a fence and drive on into the pasture a bit,” the sheriff said. “A little over a quarter-mile parallel to 281, there’s a county road, and they were trying to proceed to that dirt road... but they hit the tree right at the fence line.”
Authorities believe the group was heading to Mikesha, located along the right bank of the Nueces River, five miles southeast of George West, reports show.
Wednesday’s incident took place only four days after the early March 19 incident in which 11 undocumented immigrants were found packed inside a 2002 Ford pickup following a dramatic vehicle chase along Highway 281.
During that incident, a Live Oak County sheriff’s deputy was forced to shoot out the front and back passenger tires of the pickup to stop the out-of-control vehicle from barreling through town at speeds greater than 85 mph. The vehicle came to rest on the shoulder of the road directly across the street from the George West Holiday Inn, 200 S. Nueces St.
During both chases, authorities were forced to shut down Business 59 and 281 so the respective vehicles under pursuit could pass though without striking anyone.
The sheriff said the March 19 driver was not following the usual “human smuggle escape” routine.
“Usually, they run as far as they can and run through the brush,” Busby said. “Running through the brush is, for instance, what the driver was trying to do Wednesday if that Nissan hadn’t crashed into the tree. We would have stopped our vehicles and pursued them on foot. They would have just kept running.”
Wednesday’s chase involved three Live Oak deputies, six officers with the Texas Department of Public Safety, three George West police offices and the George West Police Department.
It began when agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, called the Live Oak County Sheriff’s Department requesting backup. ICE agents had been following the Nissan in an unmarked vehicle.
“Our deputy initiated an intercept on 281 when the vehicle was going 115 mph,” the sheriff said.