MEXICO CITY — Injured survivors of a tour bus crash that killed 11 foreigners in southeastern Mexico began leaving hospitals and heading home Thursday as two of the dead were identified as long-time educators from Washington state.
Authorities said driver negligence and excessive speed caused the crash that killed eight Americans, two Swedes, a Canadian and a Mexican tour guide as they traveled from cruise ships to visit Mayan ruins south of the beach destination of Tulum.
In Washington state, officials said educators Jody and Andy Fritz were among those killed. She was an assistant principal at an elementary school in the small town of Belfair and her husband taught environmental science at Clover Park Technical College near Tacoma for nearly two decades, according to their employers, who were notified by a family member. Both were 51.
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.
Haim Shababo of Fort Lauderdale said Wednesday that his mother-in-law, Fanya Shamis, was among the American bus passengers killed in the crash.
About 20 people were injured but only four tourists — one Brazilian and three Americans — remained in local hospitals Wednesday, according to prosecutors in Mexico's Quintana Roo state.
A preliminary manslaughter investigation indicated the driver lost control of the bus and when he tried to get it back on the narrow highway, the bus flipped, struck a tree and landed in vegetation along the roadside, state prosecutor Miguel Angel Pech Cen told reporters.
Miami-based lawyer Jim Walker, who has represented victims in other cruise ship excursion accidents, said there have been 10 or 11 similar bus excursion accidents in recent years, mostly around the Caribbean.
"We see a lot of passengers complain about excessive speed, reckless driving," or intoxicated drivers, said Walker, who was not representing any of the victims in this accident.
The cruise ship companies "claim that the local companies are independent contractors and they try to disclose language to that effect in their passenger contracts saying 'Look, if you get off the ship you're leaving at your own peril, we're not responsible for you once you leave the ship,' and the law is kind of to the contrary that they do have an ongoing duty to warn of dangers ashore," Walker said.
Jody Fritz was a dedicated educator who had recently started work at her school and made a deep impression, said North Mason School District Superintendent Dana Rosenbach.
Fritz and her husband had recently bought their dream home and moved there to be closer to her mother, Rosenbach said.
Andy Fritz "as an instructor was one of those people who took the extra time needed to make sure concepts and ideas were really sinking for his students," said Tawny Dotson, Clover Park Technical College's vice president for strategic development.
He was committed to the environment and to helping his students learn how best to work in the field prepare themselves to become environmental stewards, Dotson said.