Church confirms Athens, Tenn. family among Mexico tour bus crash victims

The lifeless body of a passenger lies next to an overturned bus, as ambulances, firefighters and police stand by in Mahahual, Quintana Roo state, Mexico, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. The bus carrying cruise ship passengers to the Mayan ruins at Chacchoben in eastern Mexico flipped over on the highway early Tuesday. (Novedades de Quintana Roo via AP) (Note: WTVC has cropped this photo)

St. Mary Catholic Church in Athens confirms that one of their parishioners, Bob Bever, was killed in the cruise ship bus crash in Mexico on Tuesday.

Church bookkeeper Cecilia Aparicio-Rascon says Bever's wife and two daughters were also injured and are in the hospital. She says the church asks for prayers for the Bever family.

There's no word yet on funeral arrangements, but we will keep you posted.

Bever's wife, Barbara, and two daughters Gina and Stephanie were taken to the hospital after the crash but are expected to be okay.

The U.S. State Department tells NewsChannel 9 representatives are at Mexican hospitals helping the injured Americans.

Bishop Richard Stika of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Knoxville released this statement:

“The St. Mary Parish family and many of us in the Diocese of Knoxville were saddened to hear about Mr. Bever’s unexpected and tragic death while on a family trip in Mexico this week. Bob was active in the Knights of Columbus, was an usher at his parish church in Athens, and was active in the Catholic Church in a variety of other ways. I have asked our diocese to join me in praying for the recovery of Bob’s wife, Barbara, and his daughters Gina and Stephanie.”

Bever was among eight Americans killed in the crash. Four other Americans were among the 13 injured.

Officials said Wednesday that driver negligence and speed caused the deadly crash in southern Mexico, which was taking tourists from a cruise ship to visit nearby Mayan ruins.

Two Swedes, one Candian, and a Mexican tour guide were also killed.

Quintana Roo state prosecutors said a preliminary manslaughter investigation indicated the driver lost control of the bus and when he tried to get back on the narrow highway, the bus flipped, struck a tree and landed in vegetation along the roadside.

"Due to a lack of care the driver lost control of the bus' steering to the right, leaving the asphalt," state prosecutor Miguel Angel Pech Cen said at a news conference. He said evidence found at the scene indicated the driver was going too fast.

The state government said that in addition to the 12 people killed, three Canadians, four Brazilians, four Americans and two Swedes had to be hospitalized for treatment of injuries. The two Swedes were transported to the United States for treatment. Seven other people were slightly injured in Tuesday's accident and returned to their cruise ship.

By Wednesday afternoon, only four tourists — one Brazilian and three Americans — remained in local hospitals, the state prosecutor's office said. Those three Americans are Bever's wife and two daughters.

A state government statement early Wednesday said the bus driver was injured and taken into custody. But Pech Cen later said the driver was not in custody. He said the driver was transported from the scene for medical treatment. They knew the driver's identity and would get a statement from him, but were not sure if he was in a hospital or still at home, the prosecutor said. He did not elaborate on the conflicting government statements.

The Swedish and Canadian governments confirmed the deaths of their citizens, but the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City confirmed only that there were "multiple" American deaths and several injuries. A statement said the embassy had staff on the ground assisting victims and loved ones.

"We express our heartfelt condolences to all those affected by this tragedy," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in Washington.

Haim Shababo of Fort Lauderdale said Wednesday that his mother-in-law, Fanya Shamis, was among the bus passengers killed in the crash. "We are waiting for the bodies to come home," he said. He said the family had no additional information to provide at this time.

Chris Brawley, of Haslet, Texas, was on one of the two cruise ships that had passengers on the crashed bus, and he was en route to the ruins as well. He said his bus passed by the accident just minutes after it occurred, and he observed skid marks on the dry pavement.

Brawley said the ship he was sailing on, the Serenade of the Seas, sailed out of Mahahual on Tuesday around 5:30 p.m., a couple hours after its scheduled departure. It was docked Wednesday up the coast in Cozumel.

"Captain informed us this morning one of our passengers passed overnight," Brawley said.

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