Teen Killed in Kylie Rae Harris Crash ID'd as Police Claim Country Singer Caused Fatal Accident
The impact of the crash was the cause of death for both drivers, who were pronounced dead at the scene, according to authorities who say speed appears to be an apparent contributing factor in the crash
Maria Elena Cruz, 16, died in the three-vehicle crash on Wednesday night in Taos, New Mexico. Local paper Taos News stated that both Cruz and Harris were wearing seatbelts at the time of the crash.
The Taos County Sheriff’s Office tells PEOPLE in a statement that Harris, who was traveling south on State Road 522 in a black Chevrolet Equinox, struck a black Chevrolet Avalanche from behind, initially sending her vehicle into the northbound traffic lane. Harris’ vehicle then collided head-on with Cruz’s white 2008 Jeep, which was traveling north on SR 522 at the time.
The impact of the crash was the cause of death for both drivers, who were pronounced dead at the scene, according to authorities who say speed appears to be an apparent contributing factor in the crash.
“At this time I will say with most certainty that Miss Cruz was an innocent victim of this senseless crash caused by Ms. Harris,” Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said in a statement to TaosNews.com and NBC News.
The third driver involved in the crash escaped injury on State Road 522, according to the Associated Press. Alcohol is also suspected to be a factor in the crash, though investigators await the results of a pending toxicology report.
Cruz’s father Pedro Cruz is the deputy chief of the Taos County Fire District and was on the scene of the accident, though not as a responder, Taos County fire manager Mike Cordova told PEOPLE.
“This is truly a terrible tragedy that has affected all parties involved. There are no words that can express how much this tragedy has affected the family of Maria Elena as well as the community. At this time we are asking for privacy for the family,” Cordova said in a statement, adding that the department is accepting donations locally for the Cruz family.
Cruz was remembered as a “loving and caring person who was taken from her family and friends’ way too soon,” according to her obituary. “She was employed and enjoyed tending to the guests at Guadalajara Grill South. She attended Taos High School where she was a sophomore.”
“She will be deeply missed by all who knew and loved her,” the obituary read. A funeral service is scheduled for Sept. 10.
One of Cruz’s former teachers called her a “beautiful, intelligent, kind, hard-working and inspirational” teen. “Maria was also treasured, loved, and admired by all who met her. Her tragic death has impacted many young lives, former teachers, her beloved parents and little sister. A life with a future only a few can begin to dream of was cut short through no fault of her own!” Patsy Anglada Alaniz wrote on Facebook along with photos of Cruz in class.
Harris’ death was confirmed by her publicist on Thursday.
“We are heartbroken to confirm that Kylie Rae Harris passed away in a car accident last night,” Harris’ publicist said in a statement to Billboard. “We have no further details to share, and ask for privacy for her family at this time. Everyone that knew Kylie knew how much she loved her family and, beyond that, how much she loved music. The best tribute to her unmatched enthusiasm for both is to spread as much love as you can today, and listen to music that fully inspires you.”
The 30-year-old singer is survived by her 6-year-old daughter.
Harris, who released two albums and her most recent self-titled EP in March, was in the northern New Mexico town to play the Big Barn Dance in Taos on Thursday.
Hours before the fatal crash, Harris posted a video of herself in her car on the road.
The crash is currently under investigation.