At least 27 people were killed and dozens more seriously injured after a long-haul truck plowed into a group of worshipers taking part in a Catholic Church procession in the Mexican town of Mazapil, Zacatecas state, on Wednesday evening.
The tragedy has underscored the need for the Mexican government to improve its enforcement of traffic safety regulations in order to bring down the shocking number of road deaths, which are upwards of 24,000 every year.
Procession-goers were about 50 meters from the church when the driver reportedly lost control
Mazapil, a town of 15,000 inhabitants, was celebrating its annual patron saint festival when the tragedy occurred. Procession-goers were about 50 meters from the 18th-century San Gregorio Magno church, on the main road, when at around 7pm a truck skidded down the hill out of control, apparently due to malfunctioning brakes.
The runaway truck, which was reportedly carrying sand, slammed into a row of parked vehicles before hitting the group of people.
In videos taken just after the accident, footage shows bodies lying on the street after being slammed against a wall, people crying out for help, and children’s seats knocked over in the wreckage.
The truck flipped over and smoke began to rise as bystanders immediately came to the rescue.
Zacatecas chief prosecutor said that witnesses saw the driver jump out of the truck after the accident
According to official reports, more than 100 people were injured. They were taken to local clinics and the closest hospitals located in nearby Saltillo, Coahuila state.
Five people died en route to hospital, including a small child, according to El Diario de Coahuila. In all, at least four children are among the dead. While the initial death toll was reported as 26, Zacatecas health authorities have since raised it to 27.
Felipe Muñiz, the director of Zacatecas state civil protection agency, said that the truck’s brakes gave out, El Diario de Cohauila reported.
Jaime Santoyo Castro, secretary general of the Zacatecas state government, said he didn’t know what happened to the driver.
“We have no information on the driver, we don’t know where he is – if he is among the injured or dead. We cannot even say whether he fled the scene of the accident.”
New regulations went into effect in January but road accidents have increased by 13 percent up until May
Zacatecas chief prosecutor Leticia Catalina Soto Acosta told AFP that witnesses saw the driver jump out of the truck after the accident.
Mazapil is located in one of Mexico’s richest mining areas.
But the tragedy has once again drawn attention to Mexico’s urgent need to enforce traffic safety laws, especially when it comes to regulating long-haul cargo trucks, which sometimes carry a bigger payload than what they normally are allowed to transport. Traffic speeds and the size of the truck are also recurring problems.
New government regulations went into effect in January, but accidents involving cargo trucks have increased by 13 percent up until May.
Besides the 24,000 people who die annually on Mexican roads, it is estimated that about 750,000 are seriously injured, including around 39,000 who are left disabled.
Road accidents are the leading cause of death of Mexicans between the ages of five and 34.
In contrast, human rights officials believe that 70,000 people in Mexico have died in drug-related murders after former President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) declared a government war against the cartels. During this same period, 140,000 Mexicans lost their lives in road accidents.