Arizona van crash police report: more questions then answers

Back in June a van carrying Burundian refugees near Tucson crashed killing six of its 17 passengers.  We first reported the story here.  If you are a new reader or have forgotten the tragic story, please go back and read that post.

Just now as I prepared to write this post, I tried to find any story that updated or reported on any further details that we have in the police report from the Arizona Department of Public Safety and all I could find is this one in the Arizona Daily Star which I encourage you to read and then continue below.

Some facts and then more questions.

The police report indicates that there were 17 passengers including the driver in a 15 passenger van and most were not wearing seat belts.  Did no one teach the refugees the importance of wearing seat belts?

Refugee agencies responsible for resettling these refugees—in this case it appears to be the International Rescue Committee because according to the police report they helped identify the victims next of kin—will say they can’t be responsible for refugees who have been in the US for two years.   It seems they and others were anxious to say the Burundians in the van had been here for a long time.  Not so according to this line in the Arizona Daily Star article I linked above.

The Burundian refugee, who recently turned 18, refuses to leave the bedside of his father, Ndururukije Leonidas, who is in University Medical Center suffering from a broken back and broken ribs. The family arrived in Tucson from a camp in Tanzania less than three months ago.

In fact the police report repeatedly tells us that they had a difficult time figuring out what happened because the refugees did not speak English.  Surely some would have rudimentary English if they had been here two years.

And, then again go back to the Arizona Daily Star and note this:

“This was a whole new world for them. They had been used to cooking over an open flame and walking everywhere,” Niyonkuru’s co-worker, Susan Asendorf, said Tuesday as she helped the family take care of the babies.

“A whole new world?”  Then who was letting them ‘rent’ a van and pile in unescorted by an American knowledgeable about rules of the road—like seat belts, speed limits, overloaded vans and tire inflation.

Which brings me to this in the police report.  The van had 4 different tires that were not of the appropriate size for carrying that much weight and were not properly inflated.  Indeed witnesses say the accident occured when a rear tire blew out while the van was traveling at a high rate of speed causing the van to flip.  Many of the passengers were thrown into the roadway a long distance from the van (seat belts not fastened!). 

 This is from a legal website in Arizona.

Studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that accidents increase when vans are loaded with 10 or more passengers, particularly if passengers are seated at the back of the van, behind the rear axel. Additionally, NHTSA has found that improper tire inflation is a risk factor in 15-passenger van rollover accidents.

O.K. by now you are asking who owned the van?   Further questions indeed.  The van was registered to Canyon Medical Care LLC of Tucson.  This directly from the police report, “However the VIN number listed on the registration did not match the VIN on the vehicle.”  The police found the VIN on the vehicle said it was registered to Tricare Medical Trans of Phoenix.

When the police called Tricare they were told that the vehicle had been sold 2-3 months earlier to Canyon Medical (turns out it was about 2 weeks earlier).  BTW, a search of both businesses incorporation papers indicated that they are both run by men with Middle Eastern-sounding names.  Are they both former refugees?  Are they affilitated with a resettlement agency in any way?  

The owner of Canyon referred further questions to his attorney but did tell police he hadn’t gotten around to changing the registration on the vehicle or insuring it!  He said he didn’t charge a fee for the Burundians to use the van.  Now, I am not a lawyer but I think once a fee comes into play, so too does a whole lot more legal liability.  No insurance must mean that we, the taxpayers, paid some huge medical bills (or the hospital absorbed them) based on the seriousness of most of the injuries.

I find this amazing.  I know where I live if you sell a vehicle you get your tags off immediately (that day) or you are responsible for the insurance.  Is Arizona a lot looser on such requirements? 

So, here is my next question, doesn’t Arizona in any way require any inspection of vehicles ostensibly used for transporting medical patients?  This van was obviously poorly maintained.   Even a complete auto-illiterate like me knows you can’t have 4 different tires on a vehicle.

Who was paying either of these medical “transport” companies to transport anyone?  Did anyone run any of this plan to send a van full of job seekers out to agribusiness Eurofresh by the refugee resettlement agency?

Then this was interesting.  I note that Eurofresh didn’t even know if these people were arriving or leaving Eurofresh.   The police report says they had left Eurofresh and were returning to the city where they lived.  But Eurofresh says this:

“Eurofresh, Inc. extends our sincere condolences to the families of the Burundian victims who died in an automobile accident on June 3 while traveling to our Willcox, Arizona greenhouse operation to seek employment,” said CEO Dwight Ferguson.

And the Arizona Daily Star confirms what the police report said.

The refugees’ van crashed as they were on their way back to Tucson from Willcox, where they had been applying for jobs that pay about $9 an hour at Eurofresh, a hydroponic vegetable grower. The driver of the van lost control of the vehicle shortly after 2 p.m. and it rolled, according to DPS.

Surely the CEO of Eurofresh would have known whether this group of refugees had been to their facility and put in job applications, wouldn’t he?   And, since we know that the IRC works closely with Eurofresh to supply them labor, did the IRC arrange this trip?

My questions could go on and on but this is a blog, not a book, so if any of our readers know the answers, I would love to hear them.  Either post as comments to this post or e-mail me privately at

And, note in the Arizona Daily Star there is a list of agencies collecting money for the Burundians.  I would like to know how they have done with their collection and why they couldn’t have set up one bank account for this project rather than people sending money c/o each group.

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